Too young to be a bride

by Because I am a Girl

It's a shame that the “happiest day of their lives” is leaving many Niger child brides mentally and physically traumatized. Mariama is just one of many young girls from Niger forced into marriage.

Mariama, 13, is told one Thursday morning that she is to be married. She’s a normal teenage girl from Niger and loves school. The news that she is to be a bride reduces Mariama to tears. Later in the week, she will be taken to her new husband.

“I wasn’t even told,” says the bewildered teenager.

Mariama says she is scared and angry at her uncle for setting up the marriage. She cries all the time and has stopped eating. “I told my uncle that he needs to be patient. I feel that I’m not ready to have sex with a man. I begged him, please – stop this marriage!”

Mariama’s uncle and mother believe that Mariama must be married because she is no longer in school. But she was forced to drop out of classes because teachers and pupils were teasing her about being a prospective bride.

“In class, if the teacher teases me by telling me that I’m a new bride, you know, the children laugh. And if she goes out of the class to visit other teachers, most of the girls will start laughing and shouting ‘the new bride! The new bride!’.”

“I’ve been sad since the first day they told me that I wouldn’t go to school and that I am to get married. I’m not eating as I used to. I can’t sleep as I used to because I keep on thinking about my new situation. I don’t even go outside anymore in the evening with my friends, because I always feel that people are looking at me, you know, as a new bride, you know - seeing my age.”

Like many girls in Niger, Mariama, has no idea who her husband is until she marries him. The men are usually at least ten years older than their brides.

A recent study put child marriage in Niger at 36% of girls married under the age of 15 (the legal age for marriage in Niger) and 75% of girls married under the age of 18.

Mariama’s mother Ramatou decided to marry off her daughter because she was offered money.

“The man brought CFA100,000 (approximately $197). When I understood that the girl was not going to school, I called the man and I told him I was ready to give him my daughter to marry because I was afraid that she would get spoilt (a term for a girl who has sex before marriage)."

Ramatou says she is not happy about the marriage. If there was another way, she says, she would not marry off her daughter so soon, but she is afraid of her being “spoilt.” Ramatou says she would like to see Mariama grow and flourish and go out with her friends. But she is afraid she might fall pregnant outside marriage and therefore become unable to be married.

“I do not have any solution, because I do not have money. If you borrow money, at some moment, you have to give back the money. If I had the means I would have given back the money to the man, so that Mariama could go back to school.”