“I refuse to walk in my mum’s shoes” says Mister , 14 year old child bride to WFAC concerning how she was forced to marry a man who is 3 times her age
“It all started when I left the city and travelled to the village to spend the summer holidays with my grand mum”, Ms. Mister narrates her struggle, fighting against marrying a 35 year-old man. August 2013, Mister recalls, her mum joking about her meeting her husband in the village. A conversation, she never took so seriously until months later when she realised that her mum’s primary intention of sending her to the village was to marry her off.
Mister’s mum is a single mother, a child bride survivor. Mister’s mum was married off to an old man when she was still a minor, in exchange for some sort of traditional rites. Mister’s mum suffered abuse, neglect and violence in her marriage. At around 20, she escaped the abusive marriage. But as per tradition, the consequences are that she can only re-marry, if her ‘arranged’ husband accepts to liberate her. Mister’s mum is not the only woman who has been a victim of harmful traditional practices in Bafanji, North West region of Cameroon. Like Mister’s mum, there many more whose tales remain untold.
Informed by her mum’s experience, Mister refused to walk in her mum’s shoes. She says; “I was only 14, and I had been promoted to the next class (form two)”“If anyone had whispered to me that at this age I will be talking about marriage. I would have asked them to re-think” It was weeks before school resumes and all Mister wanted was to begin the new school year; to learn new things. As well as get the chance to live with her great grand mum, who remains the eldest in the family.
She was just weeks old in village, when she started hearing rumors of one man wanting to get married to her cousin. Mister was astonished and couldn't believe why a 35-year or more would be attracted to a 14 year-old girl. “I found it absurd!” she says: “I couldn't understand how someone would actually think of marrying a 14 year-old. I also couldn't understand even why a parent would allow their daughter marry someone that old.” “In my mind, I knew it was wrong and had wished my opinion would matter but little did I know the whole marriage arrangement was not actually about my cousin but me”, she said with such a heavy emotion.“My mum went on to arrange my wedding without my knowledge” “I felt lied and cheated”, said Mister with strong emphasis.
One day, Mister recounts, my mother visited me in the village and out of curiosity, I asked about my cousin and how things were going on with the wedding. “I got no response”, she remarked!
“Days after my mum had left, this man visited my granny, he came with gifts, shared to everyone and gave mine too! I received the gifts and never used them. I kept them. No one, including my mum knew I have been keeping his gifts” “I did this because I was taught that if someone you don't like gives you something and you don't want to be rude by returning the gift, you take it and keep it - who knows, someday, you might find a way of returning the gift”.
After a while, Mister decided to inform her mum about it as well as to seek assistance on how to approach the uncomfortable gift-giving situation. Unfortunately, the response she got was nothing she expected. “My mum told me that it was nothing” Mister recounts; “that he is just a good man who wants to show his kind gesture”. 14 year-old Mister knew for sure, something wasn't going right. While she thought the man was trying to win her support for her cousin. Mister had no idea, that the supposed cousin would end up being her. “Though, I wasn't convinced somehow I believed my mother,” she says, “I know my mother knows so many people and I remember her telling me she made so many friends when she was young. I also thought maybe the man wanted to win my support for my cousin”. Within that period, as Mister would recall, her mum would visit her almost twice in a month. The visits was just so too frequent, she says; until finally the truth came out! “I was shocked!” she say; “ …I can’t remember everything but all I recall is how my mum started telling me things like,… the man is a good man and that I will not regret marrying the man….”
“I never loved the idea of getting married, worse to that man”, says Mister angrily. “..I refused and told my mother that I do not want to get married but that I want to go to school. Mister explains: ‘I really wanted to continue with my education, and make her proud”.
“I tried to convince my mum to understand. No matter, how I tried to explain my passion for education, my mum will not understand, she kept reminding me of how I have to struggle to score a pass, and how schooling is for those who get good grades so it will be best if I get married. And if I want to continue my education, I can do that while in my husband’s home”.
All these was happening within the month of September – November 2013. And during that period, many schools had begun writing the second sequential test for the term exams. While some students were working hard to excel in their studies, Mister was waging war with her mum. Fighting for her future and life. “It was a big distraction to me”, Mister recalls, “I could not concentrate on my studies the way I had planned”
“Finally , I accepted to marry after mum had threatened to disown me”, She recollected, “Mum assured me that it was for the best as well as my future and that I should understand her health situation, she will soon die, and she doesn't want me to suffer”.
“… and that with this man, my future is secure and safe, he is a good man, he is going to take good care of me and my younger sister and so we will be fine…” I felt so sorry for my mum, knowing fully that her health is not improving. I didn't want her to go through much pain.
So I accepted the proposal. Though everyone was against it but my mum never welcomed any one’s opinion. January 2014, in the middle of the academic term, I was removed from school and taken to the capital city, Yaoundé, to meet my husband.
Few months after the wedding, he wanted me to get pregnant. And I made him to understand that - the whole marriage is against my wish and if he wants me to give him kids, he better wait for 2025 because until then shall I be ready to give birth.
“Every night, this man and I would fight, quarrel and argue. The entire neighborhood knew us - because we will argue and shout at the top of our voices” says Mister; there are days when he would hit me and let me spend the night outside.
There are times, he will insult me and say: ‘I was not well trained to manage a house. I do not want to have children because I was not responsible enough to be a wife” When he said things like that I was happy because I knew that sooner or later he is going to send me packing and that was what I wanted.
Just four month after our wedding, April 2014, he asked me to live his house after beating me several times. I called my mum and explained the situation. She was angry and decided to personally come pick me up. I was happy to live the house so that I can continue with my studies.
2 weeks after, she says. "I was shocked to hear my mum saying that I have to return to my husband - that ‘there is no marriage without a problem. And that the man and his family have apologized. I felt offended and disappointed". But finaly she returned, with heavy heart, she recollects.
While there, Mister decided to take her life in her hands, as she recounts: “I refused to do anything. I knew nothing I do or say will liberate me - so, its better I just sit and see what life brings each day” Each day, Mister narrates; “I woke up and just sat… There are days, I took my bath late in the evening. There are also those very bad days that I refused to speak to any one… And because of that there are times I was starved because I didn't wash plates, or clean the house"
This continued for a couple of months, Mister explains, “It was not long, I was asked to back and leave”. “I felt liberated”, she giggles; ‘Finally, I left!”
Now am back, she says, to live with my mother, unmarried and I do not ever dream of getting married in such a way again and to such a man - NEVER! My plan is go back to school. I also believe that my mother too has learned her lesson and will never support such an idea. I have huge dreams and I won’t allow anyone - no man to obstruct those dreams.
This article is the 9th in the KnowHerStory Series. It also forms part of Women For A Change, Cameroon (WFAC) documentary series that seeks to highlight and amplify the voices of Child Brides. The bride was interviewed by Nancy Makeoh, WFAC's Community Outreach Manger and together we developed the story.
More on WFAC Child, Early and Forced Marriage Campaign, check out our 'Complete the Sentence Virtual Exercise on Women For A Change, Cameroon (WFAC) Facebook Page. It is a weekly QUIZ that seeks to raise awareness against CEF Practices, why it matters and why it must end.