Balkissa Chabou always had the dream of becoming a doctor. However, she was shocked at the age of 12 to learn that her cousin had been promised to marry her. She was not ready to give in and thus prepared to fight for her rights. That would include extremes of even taking her family to court if she had to.
She was on her way from school at around 18:00 when her mother called her. Her mum then pointed top some visitors and then told Balkissa that one of the visitors would marry her.
Initially she thought that her mum was joking but she would later on realize it was a serious matter when she was asked to go and unbraid and wash her hair in preparation for the forced Marriage.
The young Niger girl always had ambitions in life.
From the time she was young, she always wanted to wear the white coat and take care of the sick.
Her marrying her cousin would dampen all her future plans. It would be impossible for her to become a doctor.
They told her that once she got married, proceeding with studies would be impossible for her. But for her, she had passion in studying. She loves studying. It is at that point that she realized her proposed relationship would not go on well.
Nigeria has the highest rates of marrying out the young girls. The dynamics work in such a way that a parent gets many children. Marrying off one gives them one child less to feed.
Balkissa are five in their family. Therefore, the parents viewed it that it would be economically viable to marry her away.
There is also the belief that early marriage reduces the risk of pregnancy outside wedlock that is encouraging the early marriage.
Chibou’s mother says that these days the bringing up of children is poor. Thus one should marry them at an early age so as to reduce the risk of shame.
Balkissa continued to study harder but as she became older, the thought of being married continued to haunt her.
Then, when she was 16 years old, the wedding outfit, suitcases and bride price arrived.
“I felt pain in me, that broke my heart,” Balkissa says. She saw her family become an obstruction in her ambitions to succeed in life.
When she got her junior high school diploma, she took up the courage to leave the marriage. She told herself that she could pull her courage together and think of an escape strategy.
Her mother was aware as to why she objected to the marriage. But, as a woman in her society, she had very little say over the matter.
So Balkissa went to her father and requested for the marriage to be pushed to the holidays when she would be done with her Baccalaureate.
However, the Tuareg tradition- where Balkissa comes from- dictates that the elder brother has more power than the younger siblings. Therefore, her father would not go against him since her uncle was the elder in the family.
Her only remaining option was to approach her principle over the same matter. She took the family to court but later on dropped case saying it was all a misunderstanding.
Getting back home, her uncle threatened to kill her. She thus took refuge in a women’s shelter. The wedding party on the other hand was faced with the threat of being jailed. They were forced to go back to Nigeria.
This enabled Balkissa to return home.
She now says, “Any time I put on my school uniform, I feel a new person ready to start afresh in life.”