In Cameroon, one out of three girls will be married before their 18th birthday. In 2010, 346,000 girls aged were married/in union before age 18. If present trends continue, 500,000 of the young girls born between 2005 and 2010 will be married/in union before age 18. Most of these girls are uneducated with no access at all the Sexual and Reproductive Health information, are more likely to die during child birth or suffer complications afterwards or contract HIV/AIDS. Urgent action is needed to take solutions to scale and prevent the thousands of girls in Cameroon today from being married in the next decades.
Since 2010, we have been working with affected communities to implement strategies for girls’ empowerment through programs that offer life skills, encourage education and literacy, provide health information and services and social support. Through support from the MTV Staying Alive Foundation, We are advocating for cultural and social norms change, legal reforms and policy action. We are also providing married girls with access to social and reproductive health services, including family planning and maternal health services.
We knew all along that the goals were very ambitious, but given the severity of situation in these target communities, we worked relentlessly toward achieving them. Now we can say with certainty that three of our major goals: Community realization and acceptance that mortgaging the girl child is wrong; A reduction in the prevalence of forced and early marriages; A reduction in the prevalence of HIV-AIDS and STDs infections; were achieved during the lifespan of the project. The change in attitude of village men (and some women) from initial suspicion through outright hostility to the point where they showed us (the project team) respect and appreciation for our work, is a good indicator. Another indicator is the unprecedented boldness of community groups to openly advocate for an end to all harmful traditional practices as well as discuss taboo subjects in schools, churches and markets. These ranged from sex, the use of condoms to promoting the free distribution of condoms. Unfortunately, even though we are categorical our goal of “Increased enrolment of girls in schools” is attainable because we registered some unexpected school enrolments on October 2010 (most of the idle girls cut their hair low, got school uniforms and enrolled into form one.), it was not possible to prove this during the lifespan of the project.