A second chance: after child marriage in Mozambique

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A second chance: after child marriage in Mozambique

Child marriage is illegal in Mozambique, but it is still common. Some young women have the courage to get free. Rebecca Cooke reports.

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Tradition: girls in Mozambique learn to be housewives when they are young. But some young women are now strong enough to be independent. © Rebecca Cooke

For many people, the sound of the sea at the ocean means freedom. People think of holidays, islands and bars on the beach.

Flavia Fioretta also thinks of freedom when she hears the ocean. She remembers when her mother took her to Tofo beach in Inhambane, Mozambique, when she was 14. This was just before her father forced her to marry. She says it is the last time she remembers being really free.

Flavia’s story is typical of many girls in Mozambique. She got pregnant when she was 14. She left school after a few months because she was ashamed. Two months before her son was born, she had to marry the father and move into his family home. At 15, she followed local tradition, and took on responsibility for everything in her husband’s family’s house.

‘I did not want to get married so young,’ she says. ‘But I had a baby. I am a girl; my father decided I must be married. That is what must happen.’

Flavia’s boyfriend was a few years older. When she got pregnant, she lost all control over her life.

She was not scared when she discovered she was pregnant. She knew she could not change her father’s choice.

The legal age of marriage in Mozambique is 18 (or 16 if the parents agree). In April 2016, the government started the National Strategy to End Child Marriage. These are some of the important areas they need to improve: girls’ access to education, sexual and reproductive health services, sex education and changes in law. They want to reduce child marriage in rural areas like Jangamo where is it most common, by making teachers, religious leaders and community leaders feel strong enough to try to stop child marriage in villages.

But girls still have so little control over their own futures. Sometimes families exchange the girl for something they need: medicine, treatment from a doctor, or for farming equipment or animals. This exchange is so common in parts of northern Mozambique it has a name: using the ‘local daughter’ to pay for the needs of a family.

It is a very difficult life for these girls. They dream of escaping to an independent life. And this sometimes happens.

Albert de La Osa is a project worker at HopeM’s Maixixe in Maputo. He says teenage pregnancy is one of the main reasons why girls have to marry as young as 13. But more community leaders are working to stop this now.

A new life

Five years later, Flavia is living away from her husband, in the small community of Jago in Jangamo. She makes and sells jewellery to support her two children, and wants to start her own business.

She is still married by law, but she now has her own life and hope for the future.

It is very difficult to leave a forced marriage. Mozambique is traditional and does not accept divorce. Many people think it is an insult to the family and it brings a lot of shame if daughters do not follow what their father tells them. If they choose their own life, girls often face violence, abuse and no support at all.

But Flavia took that decision.

‘My father did not want me back after I said I would not live with my husband. But I knew I could not stay. It was not the life I want,’ she explains. ‘I don’t have a dream for the future. I just want to keep on smiling and I want my children to be happy.’

Flavia isn’t alone. A few miles away, in a village in Maxixe, 18-year-old Angelica Macuamole is now making a life of her own.

When she was 15 she had to marry because she was pregnant. She didn’t want to get married so young. When she was six months pregnant, she lost the baby, but her father still forced her to marry.

This brought the family many problems. Angelica wanted to finish school and her stepmother tried to make her father change his mind, but he didn’t.

After nearly two years of living with her husband, Angelica returned home as she could not continue living there. Her father would not allow her to return home.

Angelica is living with friends in Maxixe, working and making a new life on her own.

Suzanne Rafael, Angelica’s stepmother, now fights girls’ rights in her community. She has spoken at village meetings about how child marriage is harmful and is not the only choice for the girls’ futures. She wants to be a model to young girls in the community who want to be doctors or teachers or have their own business, not only housewives.

‘I feel this is what I need to do and I am proud of what I am doing here in Maxixe,’ she says. ‘It is to show the boys too that marriage is not always the way. Because boys will be men and men will make the decisions for their daughters.’

Angelica is now 18. She has made a second chance for herself to build a life that she chose.

I ask what she wants to do and what her dreams are. She thinks for a short moment, then says, ‘I want to write well so I can be a journalist.’

Rebecca Cooke writes about international development. One World Media sent her to report on girls’ rights in Mozambique in 2016.

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: https://newint.org/features/2017/04/01/a-second-chance/ (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have changed).