Flooding in Cameroon creates child-brides-in-waiting
The North and Far North of Cameroon is currently facing one of the worst flood disasters the area has ever known. Rising flood waters have left an estimated 67,000 people displaced. This flooding has destroyed homes, cattle, crops, and has disrupted entire households.
In the Far North, Plan has been providing displaced families with emergency assistance. But a far more insidious future problem awaits: child marriage.
It takes nearly five hours or over 155 miles to travel from the district capital of Maroua to Kai-Kai, a village close to the Chad border. However, the last 31 miles consists of a dirt road that is half-submerged by the rising flood waters. Families from surrounding villages are camped out inside of a Catholic primary school. Overcrowded, squalid conditions have made worse by continuous rainfall.
With the worsening conditions, we are concerned that many girls will soon be in danger of becoming child brides. Northern Cameroon is a culturally conservative area with traditionally high-levels of child marriage for girls. Girls as young as 11 or 12 are often married to men 15 years their senior. As we have learned from other disasters such as the Niger food crisis and the Pakistan floods, emergencies often exacerbate the level of child marriage.
Since the flooding has occured, there haven’t been any reports of child marriages. However, we have been told by the older women that this is only due to the fact that no men have asked. The women have been clear that if men do ask they will have no choice. Poverty exacerbated by the disaster dictates their decisions.
As observed by Plan’s Country Disaster Response Coordinator, Henri Noel, it is only the lack of opportunity that is currently keeping these girls safe. Once the men start asking for young brides, these young girls will be forced into the home of strangers where they may become a wife and a mother before they have stopped being children.
Plan is currently providing emergency assistance to those affected and is working on putting an end to child marriages in Cameroon. Please stay tuned for more updates on this situation.