A fear-gripped Esther Bugli, who could not come to terms with the news, pleaded with her parents to abort the idea of giving her hand in marriage and rather support her to continue her education so she could attain greater heights in life.
But, her parents would not listen to her pleadings. Her father, in particular, was optimistic of marrying her off to someone he perceived could cater for her and take the burden of fatherhood off his shoulders.
Subsequently, Esther’s family started accommodating her potential husband in their home, but all their efforts proved futile. As a determined teenager, Esther stood her ground and drummed home the fact that she was not prepared to enter marriage.
After all attempts to get her parents to come to terms with the fact that she wanted to go to school and pursue her dream of becoming either a doctor, teacher or journalist in future failed, Esther decided to abscond from home to save herself from further misery.
It was in that instance that she met one of her class teachers, who volunteered to assist her by taking her into his home and helping her further her education.
That was the lows and highs of a teenager who was bent on climbing the academic ladder to attain a bright future in life. One may not be wrong to assume that life had begun to smile on the aggrieved youngster, but her joy was short-lived, for her fortunes soon changed.
From when I took seed.
“Not too long after, I moved in with my teacher, I began to feel sick and depressed each day. Although I took some self-prescribed medications, my condition worsened. So, I went back home and reported the issue to my elder sisters who were much abreast of such anomalies. It was there that they disclosed to me that I was pregnant. How come? And pregnant at age 13?,” Esther recounted, looking sadly into space. Ridiculous you may think, but truly Esther’s teacher had impregnated her.
Tried as she did to hide her state, her parents eventually got wind of it. The development, she said, forced her to go back to her teacher to tell him about her predicament.
Upon reporting the matter to him, he gave her the option of terminating the pregnancy.
“But I was really scared to take the tablets he had suggested for me to take. With the little knowledge I had about abortion, I knew the process could be dangerous to my life, especially at such a tender age, so I declined,” she explained, with anger written all over her face.
The teacher’s response to her refusal to take the drug to get rid of the pregnancy struck her like a thunderbolt. “Suddenly, he said he was not responsible for the pregancy. He was of the view that I had been sleeping with others and that one of them could have been the one responsible for it”
“Knowing very well he was my first and only, I quickly took a Bible from the room, held it up high and told him to take it and renounce having had a hand in my predicament and thereof face the wrath of God. Suddenly, he apologised for his misconduct and gave me the assurance that he would devise ways to safeguard me.”
Remedies he devised.
The now mother of one explained that life from that moment became extremely unbearable until she met another man, one Pastor Paul Fusheini, who volunteered to assist her and help alleviate her misery. Notwithstanding the saying that, “once bitten, twice shy” Esther said she decided to give trust a second shot and never had she regretted the step she took.
Meet the “Good Samaritan”
Pastor Paul Fusheini is a pastor at the International Central Gospel Church (ICGC) at Gushegu and also a Director of Hope for the Future Community Literacy Programme, an NGO that seeks the welfare of the underprivileged in society.
Recounting how he met Esther, Pastor Paul, as he wishes to be called, said he first met her when she attended a church service organised by the church for members of the community, and it was there that he got touched and decided to help the distressed young lady.
Through the intervention of an education director at the education office in the community, Pastor Paul managed to acquire authority from Esther’s parents to serve as their daughter’s foster parent.
Pastor Paul has a family of six. Himself, his wife and four children- two males and two females. The 33-year-old man also caters for 14 other underprivileged persons in the community and these persons he regards as part of his family.
Quite apart from this, Pastor Paul has a vocational school at Gushegu where he trains inhabitants of the community through baking, ‘tie and dye’ making and sewing. His works are supported by the services of “One Way Africa”, a Christian Mission Organisation, of which Ms Sarah Amoabeng, the Operations and Partner Development Officer, helps to educate young girls and boys on issues bordering on their proper growth and well-being.
Intricacies of the practice.
This is the untold story of a girl who lived with her parents, yet went through many ordeals to make a headway in life. Currently, she is 18, and lives with Pastor Paul with her child, as she continues her education.
There are a handful of other young girls who suffer the same fate as Esther and the repercussions are not pleasant. Child marriage is a ritual being perpetuated in many Ghanaian communities.
Studies, however, continue to show its irreversible damage to both boys and girls, thus contributing to the poverty cycle.
Studies again show that young mothers face severe complications during childbirth. They mostly face severe disabilities such as obstetric fistula – a tearing of the vagina, which can leave them physically deformed and anguished. It again puts the girls at risk due to the fact that they are not fully matured for child birth hence increasing the maternal mortality rate in the country.
Some statistics on child marriages.
UNICEF estimates that globally, around one in three young women aged 20 to 24, which is approximately 70 million girls, get married before the age of 18.
In Ghana, as many as 34, 000 girls, below 15 years are married every year, with 27 per cent of girls between 15 and 18 years entering marriage often against their will.
Although the Children’s Act of 1998 prohibits marriage of any person below 18 years and while efforts have been undertaken to address the issue, recent data indicates that the national rate of child marriage, according to UNICEF, is increasing.
Efforts to arrest the menace.
Forced marriage constitutes a human rights violation and there are numerous international conventions and legal instruments that prohibit such practice.
Ending the canker would not only preserve a girl’s childhood but promote her right to education, reduce her exposure to violence, and incidences of HIV, obstructed labour, and post- partum hemorrhage.
The government, international agencies, NGO’s and other concerned bodies on their own volition are making frantic efforts to curb the problem.
Recently, the Dutch Government, in collaboration with UNICEF, approved a grant of $6m to Ghana for child protection programmes to help address child marriage and other child protection concerns including sexual exploitation, abuse of girls and other gender-based violence in the Northern, Upper East, Upper West, Western and Volta regions.
The Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection, Nana Oye Lithur, has on various platforms called on chiefs, traditional leaders and the national and regional houses of chiefs to help abolish child marriage in the country; an act she described as “criminal”.
Such initiatives are remarkable and I believe a well grounded collaboration among the ministries aligned with such issues, traditional leaders, religious leaders, organisations, security forces and the citizenry would help nib this bad practice in the bud.
In addition, concerted efforts by the media in the education of countrymen on the negative sides of the practice would go a long way to address the menace.
Marriage is a long journey- one that should not be imposed on young girls some of whom are learning to wash their clothes. It is time to empower our communities involved in such practices to put an end to it. It begins with psyching up those who have already fallen victim to the practice to lead the crusade.
Source: By: Emmanuel Tawiah Fosron/Journalist-Daily Graphic