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"It was time for this nightmare of my life to end": I have been the victim of child marriage - which I would like to be included in the priorities of the government.

My name is Narindra, 19 years old. I've lived with my mother since my parents split up twelve years ago. Four years ago, when I was 15, I was in nineth grade at high-school, and when I got my BEPC certificate, my mother forced me to marry and live with a 45-year-old married man, a businessman. She said it was to support my little brothers and sisters as my father didn't want to help us anymore. I didn't want to but she forced me to do it and stop my studies.

 

The man gave money to my mother and the family for the "vody ondry" (the dowry) and he contributed to the monthly expenses of my family. He took me to live with him in a second house which he rented, since he was already married. He asked me to have sex all the time and if I didn't agree he would yell at me, insult me and hit me. I told my mother that I could not bear this violence anymore and that I wanted to go home, but she refused and forced me to stay with him.

It was really a difficult situation and I didn't know what to do but suffer in silence. I suffered so much from this.

 

He wanted to have a child with me when I was not yet ready.

 

I had a friend who was a member of the Tuléar Youth Center who advised me to go for a medical consultation at the health corner in this youth center to do family planning and prevent me from getting pregnant. I did it in secret without talking to either mother or my partner. A few months later, I heard an awareness-raising session on the fight against child marriage by young people and I learned that forcing an underage girl to marry is illegal.

 

I asked for advice and the young peer educator directed me to the Listening and legal councelling center (CECJ) to know my rights and to ask for the steps to follow.

 

I went to this center in February 2018 and I was greeted by a Social Worker. She listened to me carefully and explained to me my rights and the sanctions that my partner and my mother may suffer if I lodge a complaint. I told her I'm going to talk to my mom about it first. I spoke with my mother and I told her to come with me to the CECJ but she refused and said that she has the right to decide for me as I am a minor and had struck me for having gone to CECJ without her permission. It was also a very difficult decision for me but I told myself that it was time for this nightmare of my life to end because I couldn't bear to go back to live with this man anymore. So, I decided to lodge a complaint regardless of the consequences to my mother.

 

I returned to the CECJ and decided to file a complaint. The vice and juvenile police arrested my mother and partner and referred them to the public prosecutor's office. They were sentenced, 10 years in prison for my partner and a three-year suspended sentence for my mother, as she had fallen ill before the day of the trial. I benefited from weekly psychological support at the CECJ for three months where I was able to recover from this experience.

 

My mother asked for forgiveness and she even made other mothers aware of the rights of young girls facing this practice. Then, with the support of the CECJ, I was reintegrated into school for my studies. I will always continue my studies because I have the ambition to become a journalist.

 

"I am very grateful to the CECJ for having supported me in these processes following the violence I suffered. I continued to educate young girls and this year I am a member of the Young Peer Educators of the Tulear Youth Center. I always want to educate young girls and mothers to realize that child marriage is not a solution to solve the family problems and that it is a punishable act, both for the parents and for the author. "  

 

Thus, being already a victim, here is what I propose, and I request the involvement of all the actors and especially of the government to strengthen awareness among young people, especially at community and rural level, because many young people easily accept forced marriage imposed by our parents. Parent education through the establishment of parent schools must be essential because, given the traditional practice, many of the rights of young girls are ignored by parents. It will also be necessary to increase the number of youth spaces and centres, as these are places where young people can get information about their rights with regard to sex education. School reintegration is also necessary but there are other young victims who have not been able to carry out studies and must be supported in socio-economic reintegration by vocational training and collaborate with the business community to integrate these young girls who have been trained.

The rate of early marriages in Madagascar is among the highest in the world. It is time to change this harmful practice.

The Marriage Law prohibits marriage under the age of 18. But there will have to be a specific law against child marriage and enforcement must be effective at all levels. It will also be necessary to accelerate the update and operationalization of the national youth policy"

 

In Madagascar, more than 40% of young women are married before the age of 18. UNFPA Madagascar is supporting malagasy governement's effort to end this scourge through the ministry of population,  with the other UN agencies like UNICEF and other executive partners.