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9 year-old children are given to marriage, WAA Executive Director says in an exclusive interview with National Times

“Despite modernity and breakthrough in science and communication, child marriage is still real in Cameroon….when a girl starts developing breast some parents feel she is good for marriage,” Justine Kwachu Kumche, Executive Director of Women in Alternative Action (WAA) said.

In this interview, our journalist sat with Junstine Kwachu, an advocate for women and girls’ rights during Queens for Peace Conference held in Yaounde. She explains the horrors of early marriages in Cameroon, but adds that they are fighting with the government and Queens of Cameroon and other partners to thwart the practice.

National Times; With the advancement in science and communication, is child marriage still a problem in Cameroon?

Justine; Child marriage is still a huge problem especially in the North where we have met many girls who are not going to school but already married. Despite modernity and breakthrough in science and communication, child marriage is still real in Cameroon. Till date girls are sent to marriage even before their 10th birthday. Globally about 15 million girls are married below the age of 18. In sub-Saharan Africa about 40% of girls are married as children, while in Cameroon about 1 out of every 3 girl is married below the age of 18 with the Northern region accounting for the highest rate of early marriages.

National Times; Is there any particular case that has touched you so far?

Justine; There are many cases we have met since we work in all the four corners of the country. However, one of the most striking cases was a young girl we met some years ago. She was married at the age of 9 by her parents to a man she never knew. One evening, while in the house, an old man got in and her parents merely told her, ‘this is your husband,’ without even hearing from the girl. Accordingly, her parents took the money and she was sent to live with the man even though she had not even nurtured woman/motherhood, she also had to abandoned school. While at the man’s house, she was maltreated and beaten repeatedly. Eventually, she ran back to her parents who instead drove her. In the midst of this confusion, one of her uncles welcomed her and had to move her out of the village to another town so that she could be educated. Moreover, the child couldn’t live in the same place because of the stigma. But we are happy today that despite all what she went through she is now a testimony to others. Generally, what we discovered is that when a girl starts developing breast some parents feel she is good for marriage.

National Times; Did child marriage necessitate the creation of the Queens for Peace International Conference?

Justine; Child/early marriage is a major problem in the world and Cameroon inclusive which is why we thought we could work with Queen mothers, Princesses and Female traditional leaders who are either close to traditional rulers, custodian of the tradition or are themselves traditional rulers. However, it is not limited to child marriage but to fight against harmful traditional practices. The inspiration also came from the fact that traditional rulers have a national conference and whenever they are in conclave, their wives are idling in hotel rooms. We thought we could use this opportunity to work with the women who can influence their husbands.

National Times; Basically, what is the Queens for Peace International about?

Justine; It is an initiative by our NGO, Women in Alternative Action (WAA Cameroon). We have a consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and we thought we could use this position to rally women who are custodians of the tradition, women who are close to traditional rulers so that they can complement the work of these male traditional rulers to work for peaceful practices in their communities. It is also in line with UN Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. The idea was born in 2009 and in 2012 we held the first edition with more than 150 Queens, Princesses and Queen mothers all over Cameroon. This year we had the second edition and we hope with time it shall be a yearly event.

National Times; Between the first edition and the second, what have the women being doing?

Justine; First of all they have been talking to their husbands, to their communities about these harmful traditional practices. For example we even had the testimony of one of the rare female traditional rulers of the North, how even in the midst of men, she is courageous enough to say NO to things like early marriage. There have also been regional exchanges. Basically, the women come up with the project and WAA provides technical and financial assistance.

National Times; After this conference, what next?

Justine; We hope that the Queens would take the ideas shared seriously, that the recommendations made to the government would be implemented because we realized that one thing holding us behind is implementation of laws. We continue our work and lobbying for laws to fighting against discrimination on women, laws against fire arms as well. We are still pushing forward so that the minimum age for marriage can be 18 rather than 15 for girls as of now. We have also been invited to Nigeria to launch a similar initiative, hence the word ‘international’ is attached to the project.