DAKAR, Senegal (AP) – Sitting on the floor and dressed in black, the 15-year-old held her baby as panicked tears welled in her eyes. Her husband, two decades her senior, could kill her if he found out she was telling her story, she said.
She was married at age 13 in the West African nation of Guinea because her parents feared she could harm her marriage prospects by having premarital sex. At the time, she said, she had not even developed breasts.
“I was given to a man that I didn’t choose before my body was even ready to have sex,” she said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. “I couldn’t even move for a week afterward because I was swollen and bleeding.”
Child marriage remains deeply entrenched in West and Central Africa, home to six of the 10 countries with the highest rates in the world. Rights groups and political and religious leaders from across the region gathered in Senegal this past week to seek ways to curb the practice.
Outspoken survivors of child marriage urged them on.
More than half of girls in Guinea are married before age 18. While the country recently banned marriage for those under that age, observers say the practice remains widespread. Some girls enter arranged marriages during times of insecurity or when families are under economic strain.
“This is a complex issue driven by poverty, cultural norms and families trying to do the best for their children,” said Save The Children International CEO Helle Thorning-Schmidt. “But until we break the cycle where the only way a girl can give her family honor is to marry and have children, then we will not change this.”