When Hawa’s older sister arrived from Mali to a refugee camp in Burkina Faso in 2012, there were no secondary schools for her to attend.
She had no choice but to stay at home, and as a result, her family decided to marry her off. At just 16, she is already a mother.
“In my culture, children do not have the right to object to what their parents decide for them,” Hawa said. “All they have to do is accept it and put up [with it]. This situation is common in our community and a lot of girls like me are already married and pregnant.”
“I was quite shocked to hear the news,” Hawa added.“My sister was clearly not happy with the decision,” she added.
Hawa, determined not to endure the same fate, took advantage of a Plan International program.
Because she had fallen behind in school, she joined Plan’s summer catch-up classes in 2012 to make up for lost time. She then enrolled herself for the next academic year and started attending regular classes.
“I put my heart and soul in my studies,” she said. “I want to become a lawyer and I will do my best to realize my dream.”
Hawa’s aunt, who is a lawyer, is her role model.
“My aunt is financially independent and has done so well for herself,” she said. “I [listen] with great interest when she talks about legal classes. I want to be a lawyer like my aunt in order to advocate for people’s rights – particularly for children’s rights.”
This year, Hawa’s sister followed her lead and registered for school.
“My sister really wants to go back to school,” she said. “It is not going to be easy to study with a very young child. But, my mother will look after my sister’s baby so she can concentrate on her studies.”
A refugee still living in uncertainty, Hawa’s education is promising her a better future. She is one of over 40,000 refugees in Burkina Faso to flee from violence in the northern part of Mali, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
“At this point, the most important thing for me is to acquire knowledge, to graduate, and to become a lawyer,” she said. “After that, I can think about getting married. I hope I will be spared of forced marriage, which can prevent me from realizing my dream. I am keeping my hopes alive.”