Girls fleeing the ongoing civil war in the Central African Republic (CAR) are being forced into early marriages in Cameroon, according to Reuters. The refugees say the warm hospitality that families in Cameroon have accorded them comes at a price, which experts say will affect their future.
Fourteen-year-old Koulsoumi fled to Cameroon after watching her parents die last year.
After being warmly received by a family in Tongo Gandima, she was forced to marry one of the family members who would disappear after having sex with her.
“I was not happy but the family took me in, what choice did I have?” Koulsoumi, who has already given birth.
No School for Girls
Although refugee camps in Cameroon offer free education, at least two-thirds of refugees in the country live in villages where raising the $3 for enrollment fees can be a challenge.
This has resulted in many refugee families forcing their daughters into early marriages and their sons into child labor.
The majority of refugee communities in the region are farmers who do not value education for their children.
“This is a forgotten crisis, one that is weighing heaviest on the shoulders of young girls. Protecting them from early marriage and broken lives full of misery is a priority,” UNICEF’s representative for Cameroon, Felicite Tchibindat, said.
According to Reuters, almost half of teenage girls in eastern Cameroon get married before their 18th birthday.
“My family wanted me to marry at 14, but I said, No, I’m getting an education,” a 15-year-old girl in Gado Village said.
Low Pay & Lack of Teachers
The region has a significant shortage of teachers, with the few that are available preferring to work in cities.
The recent freeze on the recruitment of public school teachers by the government also dealt a huge blow to children refugees who want to get an education.
Parent associations in the region have resorted to hiring teachers to fill the gap and to balance the ratio of teachers and students.
Refugee Crisis in Eastern Cameroon
The ongoing civil war in the CAR has led to the current refugee crisis in Cameroon, especially in the eastern region.
While violence has slowed since CAR’s February election, frequent attacks continue to be reported forcing more people to cross the border.
Since the war between Muslim and Christian militants began in 2013, close to 300,000 refugees have fled into Cameroon.
BY FREDRICK NGUGI