Healing the wounds

Healing the wounds

MASERU – Forced into marriage as a teenager in 2014, ’Mamolora Kanyane* was forced to abandon her dreams. Now she is using her story to help other girls attain theirs. Kanyane had big plans and early marriage was not one of them. But then, she had no say in the matter, never mind that it was her life at stake.

At 17, Kanyane found herself into marriage, forced to abandon school to become a wife.
Her boyfriend abducted her while she was doing Form A at Masaleng High School in 2014, telling her she was now his wife.
‘‘I did not want to go with him and I told him how I felt. But he did not listen but rather he forced me,’’ she says.

Her mother tried to rescue her. But then, that was a man’s decision to make so her father overruled the rescue plan and insisted that she stay married.
Thanks to a deeply entrenched patriarchal system that treats females as second class citizens with no decision-making powers in matters regarding their own future, many girls are forced into marriages and forced to abandon their lifelong dreams.

‘‘I felt so angry but there was nothing I could do except to try and accept the situation even though it was difficult. I stayed because I felt like I had no choice,’’ said Kanyane, who suffered physical and emotional abuse in the relationship.
‘‘Getting married at a young age is very challenging. We fight a lot with my husband over my cell phone. He calls me names and beats me at times,” she says.

“My husband hardly gets piece-jobs hence we struggle to put food on the table. On the other hand, I cannot go to work because my child is still young, only two years old,” says Kanyane. According to the 2016 Lesotho Census Report, child marriages have risen from 19 percent to 24 percent.
The majority of the girls are not aware of their rights, hence their boyfriends and fathers force them into early marriages with impunity.
‘‘I only learnt about my rights last year when I heard a story of a girl who was forced into marriage by her parents who were later arrested after she reported them to the police,’’ she says.

‘‘If only I had known, I would not be here now,” says Kanyane.
She joined a support group earlier this year to help her heal and share her story with others who may fall into similar circumstances.
The Young Mothers Programme is supported by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
This is the programme that helped her share the challenges she encountered with her peers in the group and received healing through the emotional support.

‘‘This programme helped me to believe in myself and supported me through the entire process of restoration. My self-esteem is boosted. Now I am empowered and I understand that the challenge of forced marriage is not the end of the world,’’ she says.
“Being part of it taught me to stand up for myself without anybody forcing me into anything.’’

“To all children out there, I advise them to do whatever it takes to avoid early marriage and avoid sex before marriage. And to young mothers, please take care of yourselves, make healthy choices for both yourselves and your children and have hope for a better future,’’ she said.
UNICEF’s mandate is to protect and defend the rights of children.

Children are protected from abuse, exploitation, negligence and various forms of violence, said UNICEF’s Child Protection Officer, Lipotso ’Musi.
Within the government, UNICEF’s key partners are the Ministry of Social Development (MOSD) and the Ministry of Justice and Correctional Service (MOJCS).

’Musi says UNICEF supports the ministries with funding and technical expertise to strengthen internal organisational systems and capacities.
‘‘If we facilitate training in child rights, we do not just train the child protection department within the ministry but also work together with the departments of social protection, the elderly and people with disabilities because all have a stake in the fulfillment of the rights of children,’’ she said.
UNICEF also works with the MOJCS to facilitate the administration of child-friendly justice. ‘‘Justice for children is one way that we are continuing to support, not only our government partners, but also relevant NGOs,’’ said ’Musi.

‘‘We work to improve the visibility of children with disabilities by enabling them to participate in the children’s parliament, which is a child led forum where they can discuss issues that affect them with policy makers,’’ she added.
Last year, UNICEF supported the government under the auspices of the African Union to officially launch the End Child Marriage Campaign.
‘‘Children abuse is unremitting hence our efforts to work together with our partners to prevent and respond accordingly,’’ ’Musi said.

Police spokesman, Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli, said child sexual abuse cases were rising “most rapidly”.
In some mountainous regions, forced child labour and early child marriages remain major challenges, Mopeli said.
“The Ministry of Police advocates for children’s rights by visiting schools with the motive of encouraging both teachers and children to report any form of abuse directed either to one or others. Regarding those abuses that involve parents (physical abuse), we appeal to them through public gatherings,’’ Mopeli said.

He further notes that to ensure children’s safety, the ministry ‘‘empowers them to know all role-players’ phone numbers such as the police, social welfare and all other relevant agencies. This will help them in case of an emergency, whenever he/she gets access of a phone, he/she will be able to know who to call to report the matter.’

*Name changed

By ’Mapule Motsopa


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