I WAS BORN IN THE BEAUTIFUL CONTINENT OF AFRICA, WHERE I COULD SEE THE BEAUTY OF THE SUN AS IT ROSE AND SET EACH DAY. LIFE WAS WONDERFUL WHEN I WAS A BABY, BUT AS I GREW, I BEGAN TO FEEL THE SCORCHING HEAT OF THE AFRICAN SUN AND LEARNED OF THE PAINS THAT ARE AFFLICTED UPON THE GIRL CHILD. I WOULD LOOK UP WITH DETERMINATION IN MY EYES, AND SOAR HIGH LIKE AN EAGLE, CAREENING TOWARDS THE BRIGHTER DAY THAT I WAS ANTICIPATING.
All the suffering that l have gone through inspires me to fight, so my daughter’s life can be more enjoyable and free – free from all the suffering and pain that l went through. As l lift my daughter up, I’ve made a promise to her that as she grows, she will only see and taste the Beauty of Africa: peace, joy, and freedom that all men and women will share equally. Today, as l tell this story, l believe my daughter will tell a different story… for Africa will have changed, Africa will accept the girl child. This is my story, and the reason I fight for the African girl child.
When l was eight, l started to make sense of the world. Though l was young, l looked up and always believed that I could become the great person that l wanted to be. Unfortunately, that is not how the world saw me. The world saw me as a weak girl, with no future but to stay in the kitchen and look after the house. This world wanted me to be dumb, to speak only when asked, and to never stand up for myself. This was not what l had in mind. l was outspoken and to me, the sky was the limit. What the world turned me into was really not me. However, the world gave me something that no one could have given to me: in every pain and suffering, it gave me God, who l called unto for courage.
As the years went by, life became tougher. My father changed colors like a chameleon, a monster that l could not recognize. Instead of protecting me from the enemy, he became the enemy. I had trusted him to protect me, but instead, I silently endured the pains of rape at his friend’s hand, wishing it could have been a stranger. In pain, l confided in my mother, who shunned me for fear of the man she had married. But despite her fears, she slowly began to defend me in whispers, like any mother should. But it was not enough to protect me.
At the age of 13, my father secretly handed me to his friend as a bride. Though I could cook and clean, I was still a child. I did not feel like a bride when I whispered my vows. l was not ready to be a wife, but what I wanted did not matter. My life had been stolen by the people who were meant to protect me. Tears streamed down my mother’s cheeks as she waved goodbye. In tears, l looked up and promised myself that I would have a different future. I had been denied my right to education and was forced into marriage as a child, but hope kept me going.
I was treated as more of a slave than a wife – not that l knew how a wife was to be treated, for l was only old enough to be his daughter. All l could ask myself and God was, “what has this world become?”
My mother tried to console me by telling me that l was not the only girl married at such a young age, but instead, I was horrified that other girls were forced to experience the same as I. The fact that a lot of young girls were handed over as young girls didn’t make it right, and neither did it help my situation. To my surprise, my brothers back home were going to school and had not been forced into any marriage. But amidst everything, God gave me light. The boys who went to school taught me how to read and write. At night, when everybody else was asleep, l would rise to read. In harboring this secret, I silently fought against inequality, and reaffirmed my rights.
Hell broke loose when my husband found me reading at night. Though I was pregnant with our first child, he beat me hard and made me promise l would stop studying. He had realized that studying would be the end of my slavery to him, and education would bring light to my eyes and enable me to fight the injustices that l had been living under, even as I chose to endure all the beatings. I was determined to put an end to my suffering and that of my child. At times, l wanted to give up, but when l looked at my bulging tummy, all l could see was a girl who would suffer if l didn’t stand up for her.
My mother had been silenced by the world, and all she could do was endure her suffering and weep for my suffering. But my pregnancy gave me hope and courage. When it became known that I wanted to study, the community looked at me with disgust. I was shunned. I encouraged other girls who had the opportunity to learn that I never had to give it their best shot, and focus on building a future for themselves – for this was in their capability, and education was the key.
My husband was never faithful and always refused to use condoms. Though I should have had the right to decide what I did with my own body, this was another right that he took from me. When he infected me with HIV, I realized that this was another scar l should never have endured as a girl child. I never lost hope, but carried on with treatment for both me, and my unborn baby. The abuse worsened, and with my father’s blessing, l went back home to my mother.
I walked away from years of suffering and violence in my marriage, but it should never have got so bad. Eventually, I felt strong enough to decide that it was time for me to take a stand in my life. I began to sell vegetables during the day, and attend night school and with more determination to learn. When l had to give birth to a beautiful baby girl, l wept with joy. I lifted her into my arms and promised her a better future than l had: a life of freedom, love and protection, with equality between men and women. I fought for my daughter’s life, and would encourage the entire world to fight not just for her, but for the life of every African girl child, for they are as capable as the boy child.
I stand again to fight child marriage.
To my parents who gave me away as a young bride: you destroyed my future.
To the man who believed that it his right to take a child bride: are you not ashamed of your actions?
To those who doubt that I have a future, or the ability to change the world: do not rob me of opportunity in life just because l am a girl child.
My whole body has scars, and l take pride in them, for they are a sign that l have fought against the injustices of my youth. My fight cannot go to waste.
To you, my reader, I invite you to join me. We can stand together and fight domestic violence, inequality, and child marriage. Today, l call upon the entire world to take on the injustices faced by the girl child. Together, we can ensure that they have the future and life that they deserve.