At the time of writing, I am 17 years old.
My older sister was forced to marry a man chosen by my paternal grandfather. Most often teenage girls end up with old men but my sister was forced to marry a young man. In spite of his youth, she did not love him. To make matters even worse, he lived far from our family.
After the forced marriage, my sister decided to take matters into her own hands and ran away. She was subsequently able to remarry a man of her choice. My grandfather was furious and her decision to disobey resulted in her expulsion from the family.
Since my sister was no longer available for the young man she had been compelled to marry, my grandfather selected another teenage girl as a substitute for her. The man in question was afflicted with AIDS and as a result, this second wife eventually contracted AIDS from him and died.
In the meantime, my grandfather resolved that I would now have to marry this same man whose disease had killed his first wife. Luckily for me, an aunt, my grandfather's daughter, managed to convince him otherwise. My aunt's intervention on my behalf spared me from this awful tribal plight that many teenage girls face in my country. Regrettably, had it been a maternal aunt instead of a paternal aunt pleading my case, my story would not have had such a happy ending.
When I was 15 years old, I ran away from my family to escape a forced polygamous marriage.
When I was younger, I lived with my aunt, and while I stayed with her I was allowed to attend elementary school. At the end of grade six, my paternal grandfather ordered that I should discontinue all schooling. He wanted me to marry a man he had chosen for me. At one point, my grandfather came to get me in anticipation of the forced marriage, but I ran back to my aunt's hut in broad daylight. My grandfather was quite undaunted by my resistance and came to retrieve me a second time. I was then forced to marry.
I resolved to flee from my clan and head for Ste Bernadette Centre in Kongoussi, some 95 kilometers from my home. I walked four days without food.
As a result of my opposition to my grandfather's wishes, he banned me from my family. One summer, I decided to visit my family but my grandfather told me that I had go and live with my husband. Needless to say that I did not heed.
Although I am happy at the Centre, I grieve for my mother who supported me in my steadfast refusal to live with my husband. As a result of her support, she became a pariah and was chased from the clan. I now do not know her whereabouts.
My father promised my sister and me to the same man. In my culture, consulting a teenage girl about a prospective husband is simply not something that is done especially if you come from an uneducated and impoverished clan. I determined that marrying this man was a fate I could bear. He was too old, I didn’t care for him and I couldn’t stomach the idea of being married to the same man as my sister.
One fateful day when my parents were out in the field, I decided to flee. I walked fifteen kilometers in the back country in perpetual fear of being caught. Generally when a teenager escapes, the father, the prospective husband and the other men of the clan set off to find her. Being raped, forced to drink poison and subjected to other forms of physical abuse are some of the punishments inflicted upon a teenage girl if caught.
It requires an incredible amount of courage and determination to go against traditional forced polygamous marriages because once a female adolescent chooses to flee, she is labeled a pariah and is usually permanently cut off from her family. Moreover, she brings shame to her family.
My name is Fideline Sawadogo. When I was 13 years old, I fled my home and sought refuge at Ste Bernadette Centre to avoid a forced polygamous marriage.
While my family was living in the Ivory Coast, I stayed in Burkina Faso to help my grandmother and attend elementary school. At one point, I was taken out of school because my father, who was still living in the Ivory Coast, could not afford the tuition fees. As is so often the case, the clan chief did not value education. Consequently, he and the other men of the clan determined that I should marry a man who already had 3 wives and several children. When my father returned to Burkina Faso, he was apprised of the situation but he could not protect me. Going against the wishes of the chief and the clan was not an option.
My father and a more enlightened man of the clan took me to Ste Bernadette Centre. This decision has had serious repercussions on my family. For one thing, the clan has banned me from ever returning home. At the time, my greatest concern and sorrow was that my younger sister would be forced to marry the man whom I had so adamantly rejected. My greatest joy is to report that I have successfully outwitted the clan and now my sister, Antoinette, and four others from my clan are safe at Ste Bernadette Centre.
A few hours before my birth, a stranger named Ali walked into our courtyard. This sealed my fate, as our traditions dictate that a visitor must wait around until the baby’s birth before continuing on his way. If the baby is a boy he must remain on friendly terms with the family. If the newborn is a girl, she is promised to the visitor.
When I was six years old, my father entrusted me to an aunt. My job was to care for her child. I longed to attend school but was forbidden to go out. When I was ten years old, my aunt informed me that I had been promised to Ali and as a result I could not go out at all. As far as she was concerned, friends, school or church would detract me from the marriage planned for me.
I lived with my aunt for 11 years. During this time, unbeknownst to her, I fell in love with a young teacher. His most significant promise to me was that he would allow me to attend school.
When I was 17 years old, she took me back home because it was time for me to marry Ali. I ran to advise my fiancé that I was going to be forced to marry. We decided to flee to the Ivory Coast. Unfortunately, I was caught. By running as fast as he could my fiancé saved his life because had he been caught he would have been murdered that very day.
I was forcibly taken to Ali and I wept bitterly because my hopes of avoiding this forced marriage were dashed. I did not want to sleep in Ali's hut but women and boys from the village lifted me and threw me inside. The door closed behind me and I found myself alone in the dark with Ali. I was extremely frightened and cried. Ali attempted to calm me. He wanted to caress me and then have intercourse. I rejected every one of his advances until he fell into a deep sleep. I could not sleep. Convinced that he was sleeping soundly, I crept out of his hut and fled. It was approximately three o'clock in the morning and the entire village was fast asleep. I fled to Kongoussi, a city located 25 kilometres west of my village. At times I walked, at other times I ran, knowing that I was running for my life.
Very early in the morning I finally arrived in Kongoussi, and found myself at Ste Bernadette Centre where I received a warm welcome.
I would like to say a heartfelt thank you to all those who have contributed to my freedom and education. I am now willing to support any girl in similar circumstances.