From child bride to Senegal rights crusader

Thu Aug 4, 2011 4:33am EDT
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By George Fominyen

KEUR ISSA, Senegal (TrustLaw) - Fatou Diakhate seemed so young when she was given away in marriage that her husband, Mori Diarra, took pity on the 13-year-old.

Diarra, 30 at the time, spoke to Diakhate's father and arranged for her to stay in her family home until she was 15. It wasn't long after she eventually joined him in Keur Issa, a hamlet in western Senegal, that she became pregnant.

Forty years later, sitting in the courtyard of the matrimonial home, Diakhate explained how she went on to have 12 children.

"In those days, when parents saw their children getting married they were very happy," said Diakhate, now 55. "Since we girls were not educated, we were also happy to get married. We didn't know early marriage was not a good thing."

Child marriage is widespread across sub-Saharan Africa, where it is often driven by endemic poverty and seen as a way of securing a girl's future both financially and socially.

It also benefits parents through the payment of a "bride price."

A recent study by children's charity Plan UK found that 43 percent of girls in West Africa are married before their 18th birthday. Not only are they pulled out of school, but many face early pregnancy and serious health complications.

DEATH THREATS   Continued...