Escaping the violence from Boko Haram, 12-year-old Binta and her family arrived at the Minawao refugee camp in Cameroon in February 2017. Now in a place of safety, Binta was certain their troubles had finally come to an end.
"I was very happy, as I could finally play with my new friends without any worry,” she said.
However, she had no idea that her parents were arranging for her marriage to a man older than her father. The marriage happened just a month and a half after they arrived at the camp.
Binta suffered weeks of torment at the hands of her new husband who forced her to have sex with him, putting her at risk of sexually transmitted diseases and early pregnancy. The usually jovial girl cut herself off from everyone and became withdrawn.
From Marriage to a Classroom
After being alerted to Binta’s situation by a member of the community, Plan International, responsible for child protection in the camp, was able to rescue Binta from her ordeal. She immediately received medical care and is now undergoing psychological care and counselling.
The man she was forced to marry was arrested and is now awaiting trial. After being trained on the dangers of early and forced marriage, Binta’s parents were finally convinced of the importance of educating their daughter instead of marrying her off.
Binta now attends school along with her two younger sisters and two brothers. At school, she has discovered a new world of numbers, letters, drawings, games, and songs.
“I learn a lot at school,” she said. “Every day, after classes, I stop at Plan’s office in the camp to show them what I have learned!” With the help of counselling, she is gradually emerging from her silence.
Changing Traditional Cultural Practices
There is still a lot of work to be done to address traditional cultural behaviors in the refugee camps. However, through campaigns, educational talks, and focus group discussions that Plan is regularly organizing with the local communities, things are starting to change.
So far, six early marriages have been prevented as a result of Plan’s child protection work.
By successfully ending Binta’s marriage, the chain of early marriage in her family—which started with her mother, who was married at the age of 14—has been broken and her younger sisters, who would also have been forced into marriage, are now able to go to school.