As she sits on the floor and holds her baby, she is panicked and tears fill her eyes. Her husband, nearly 20 years older, might kill her if he knew she was telling this story.
Speaking anonymously, she says 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. I couldn’t even move for a week afterward because I was swollen and bleeding,” she says.
Child marriage continues to be a serious issue in West and Central Africa. The Washington Post reports:
“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.”
Leila, a survivor from Niger, explained that her uncle forced her to marry a man when she was only 14 because of a debt he could not repay. She says her husband beat her for refusing to have sex. It was only after her second pregnancy that she was able to escape and get a divorce so she could return to her studies.
In tears, she offered hope to other girls who are victims of forced marriage: “I would say to them to be patient and remain courageous,” she said.