I was reading the post written by sister when I remembered an issue of concern that I have tried to keep it away from my mind . Not because of the fact that I did not wish to face it but because it left me feeling so helpless , so frustrated. In short it is a story about a 15 year old girl forced to marry a man older than her father by her own father. This little girl was my adopted daughter, I had brought her to my home to help me watch over my baby for a little while , while she went to school and was kept safe from the raging anglophone crisis that had led to closure of schools in the two English speaking regions of the my country, Cameroon.for the sake of this story , I would call her Maureen.
Maureen was a timid little girl in Form 3, that is her third year in Secondary school. She had big dreams , plenty questions and lots to learn and when her family pleaded with me to take her in to be a live in nanny sorts , a big sister to my 6 months old baby , I could not say now. First because I needed the help, second because I saw in her an innocent soul whom I could mold, teach and see grow .
Working as a member of staff for the UK diplomatic mission, being a project person who designed and implemented projects that sought to eradicate practices that infringed on rights of women and girls as lack of education, early and forced child marriage, breast ironing, female genital mutilation, etc; I could not bring myself to allow a 15year old kid to work as a domestic servant in my home, despite her plea and that of her family. So I agreed with with that her role will be to help me dust around the house and keep my little apartment tidy, while i did the rest. I think , the fact that so many teenage kids in some parts of Cameroon end up domestic servants, had made her feel at my house she will wash , cook , clean, etc etc. But she was shocked when day 1. she spent 30 minutes to sweep the house then bathed and had breakfast after prayers and it was play and tv and small online lessons for her.
Maureen was skeptic, why I don't know but she later relaxed and accepted to be a second daughter in the house and not a house help as was what her parents had wanted her to be for me. As the days turned into weeks and weeks to month, the young girl bloomed. I taught her French, she followed maths and English courses on education channels I paid for so she could start preparing herself for school. I was impressed at how fast she learnt and how responsible she grew. I had hopes that once she started home school and later one when the tension in Cameroon's capital eased a bit, a tension caused by suspicion that loomed over us English speakers. A suspicion and fear of being called Ambazonians and supporters of the ongoing revolution going on in the English speaking parts of Cameroon and ending up in jail without access to legal counsel.
Life went on smoothly for about 5 months and Maureen was getting set to start home school when my spouse was called by Maureen's father who wanted to free us from our vow to raise Maureen and send her to school. When my husband called me , my spirit was unsettled. Immediately, I was suspicious of this sudden change of mind and I was very strongly afraid that the little 15 year old may have been sold of a child bride. The pressure mounted as her parents kept asking for me to send her back to their village. What I could not understand was why they wanted this, when the army had razed down a part of the village including their home, when violence was raging as a result of the ongoing anglophone crisis, when many people who barely knew me were asking me to take in their own children and send them to school but I couldn't because I did not have the means to help more than 1 person. Why then would her parents be so insistent that a 15 year old returns to such an atmosphere of violence and insecurity.
But I actually gave in, not after having tried to stall things, and after talking with Maureen. Asking her several times if she was sure all was ok, to which she answered yes. So Maureen went back home and I was told each time I called that she is ok, both by herself, her parents and her aunt.
But that feeling of uncertainty concerning her never really left me nor my husband and soon after I travelled abroad to join him, my fears were confirmed. Maureen called and told me she was married. My head spun, my heart reeled. Who could marry a 15year old girl? What sort of marriage? As the months went by, I was informed of more details. Maureen was sold to an old man older than her dad by her own dad who owned the man money or something like that.
Oh how I mourned! How can parent do that! For 1 year I had been made to believe that after she left my home, the money I had been giving her parents to for their upkeep and the money I had been sending to them to keep for her for when she will return was used to send her to computer school. But all this was a lie.
I sit now and I write, my mind cant think of any thing else. How can I help now? I feel so helpless. I am in another continent, I no longer has access to the networks within the ministry of women's affairs in Cameroon , within organisations that work on girls' rights, within the police in Cameroon as I used to before. I no longer have the financial means either. I see the plight of this little girl and I ask why didn't they let me know earlier. When I was in position to help stop this? Why didn't the mum and Maureen herself tell me the truth? Was I a bad guardian? I feel so helpless.
Now Maureen calls me , after months of blackout in communication, now her aunt call me. I see in their calls a cry for help. But how can I help without putting her life at risk. If the supposed husband could threaten her parents and send her mum to hospital, what more could he do to her now as a wife in his house at his mercy?
My dear sisters tell me, if you were the one in this position , what would you do? How can you help Maureen?