I want to share with you the story of a teenage girl from Nigeria.
Esther* was 17 when Boko Haram, armed with guns, attacked her village in Nigeria. Miraculously, she was able to escape, but she was forced to leave behind her mother, father, and six siblings.
Alone and terrified she sought help from a woman who offered to take her to a refugee camp in Cameroon.
Esther felt like she had been sent a guardian angel. But when they finally reached the refugee camp, things took a dark turn. One evening, the woman told Esther that she was to be married to an elderly man in the camp, and to begin preparing to move in with her future husband.
Esther didn’t sleep that night. In her village in Nigeria she had loved going to school. Now that she was living in the camp, she dreamed of continuing her education. At this stage in her life, marriage was not a dream but a nightmare. When she protested, the woman insisted the marriage was for her own good – the man would support both of them.
Her nightmare became reality as she was ultimately forced to marry the elderly man. Esther had managed to slip through Boko Haram’s grasp, cross into another country, and seek sanctuary in a refugee camp – and yet she still hadn’t reached safety.
For girls living in precarious or unstable regions, this story is all too common. There are thousands of girls like Esther, who are living in refugee camps under a constant threat of child and forced marriage.
And it is not just girls like Esther who are vulnerable. Families’ facing financial difficulties sometimes offer their girl children as brides in exchange for money. Tragically, in some cases, families believe a husband will be able to better care for their child. But this temporary solution has devastating effects on a girl’s life, jeopardizing their right to learn, lead, decide and thrive.
We cannot let these girls continue to slip through the cracks. That is why Plan International has been working to ensure refugee and internally displaced children are protected from all forms of abuse in the refugee camps we work in. It is the same reason why Plan is steadfastly dedicated to protecting the rights of girls globally. Every child should have the right to unleash their full power and potential – regardless of their gender.
Child marriage represents a barrier to fulfilling this vision. But we have the power to change the story for these young girls.
Thanks to your ongoing support, Plan International has the expertise and resources to not only identify cases of early marriage in refugee camps, but to intervene, end the marriage and restore the child’s agency.
In the camp Esther was living in, 19 such marriages were ended, including Esther’s, which was dissolved after three months. Finally her nightmare came to an end and she is now enrolled in a vocational training course. Thanks to the support of donors like you, Esther can begin to dream again. Her story has been changed forever.
Without the support of our generous community of donors, those 19 girls would have faced a bleak and uncertain future, with little opportunity for education or economic empowerment.
But by giving to Plan International Canada, you are partnering with us to help change the story for these girls. When you invest in a girl, you are helping ensure she has the chance to stay in school. You are helping ensure she has the opportunity to contribute economically to her community. You are helping ensure she is able to build the future she dreams of.
When I hear stories like Esther’s I am reminded how essential it is for girls to have dreams for their future and what an important role our donors play in protecting these dreams.
So as Plan continues to work towards building a world where all children are able to reach their full potential and thrive, remember the critical role you play in writing this story and protecting these dreams.
*Girl’s name has been changed to protect her identity