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13 stolen smiles four child marriage stories from the east region of cameroon. Text and images ©unicef/dominique catton

Thirteen Stolen Smiles is a story that aims to raise awareness of child marriage. Photographed in Eastern Cameroon in 2016, it looks at the experience of four young girls (Elisabeth, Mirabelle, Mariam and Delphine) who are already married or promised for marriage at the age of just 13.

Elisabeth, only 13 years old, still attends the village's school of Abou Boutila. She fled the Central African Republic two years ago and has since been hosted by a family who have promised her hand in marriage to a man that she does not even know yet.
Village of Abou Boutila
Elisabeth dreams of becoming a doctor to save the life of those who suffer the most.

13 years old and a whole life ahead of you, with the hope to become a doctor and save the life of those who suffer the most.

13 years old, the first tentative steps into romance, the innocent games played outside of school with their first true friends and aspirations for a better future.

13 years old the first songs full of dreams, the first books taken heart.

For some 13 years old though, life bears no resemblance. In Gado, Cameroon, about 50 km from the border of Central African Republic in the East of Cameroon, girls of just 13 years old, still pure and developing physically have a steely gaze full of sadness; these girls are to be given away in marriage and forced to leave school.

Mariam is 13 years old and is already married to a 33 years old man
“I want to start a small business and leave my husband, he isn't kind to me, I am hurt and mistreated if I don't do as he wishes. I left my country alone to escape from war and violence, finding shelter and food in Tongogadima, I quickly realised that something is never done for nothing, so I was forced to marry in exchange" Mariam

Elisabeth, Mariam, Delphine and Mirabelle each began their journey in different circumstances. Elisabeth and Mariam were forced to flee their respective countries to escape the ravages of war seeking shelter and protection from two families whom, in spite of their generosity, still adhere to tradition and have given them up for marriage, aged 13 years old. In contrast Delphine and Mirabelle have already had to leave their education in order to live and work in their given husband's homes at the same age of 13. This an age at which most girls around the world are working toward building their future while enjoying the innocence and freedom that only childhood provides.

At the time of their marriage , Mirabelle and her husband , were respectively 13 and 14 years old. Her husband's family offered a rooster and $10 as payment for Mirabelle. They have 2 children and are expecting a third.
Only 62 % of the girls in the East finish primary school and 9% of these have already been forced into their first sexual relationship.
Young girls in the village of Tongogadima, Eastern Cameroon. Nearly 48% of all girls in this region are married before the age of 18.
Elder women of the village of Tongogadima share their thoughts and experience on early marriage.
Delphine is 15 and is 8 months pregnant. She was only 13 when she was brought to her husband's family. She needed to leave school so early that she doesn't know how to read or write.

Violence against children is widespread in Cameroon. Girls are especially at risk in the East in refugee-hosting communities. In these emergency areas, children are exposed to abduction, family separation, rape and arbitrary detention. Child marriage continues to plague Cameroonian society while birth registration rates have declined over the years, depriving children of their right to identify, protection and access to services.

Every girl has the right to an education #END CHILD MARRIAGE

As part of the implementation of the SDGs and the African Union's campaign against child marriage, one of UNICEF's strategic priorities is to support the government in ending this harmful practice in Cameroon. A national four-year campaign to end child marriage was launched by the Ministry of Promotion of the Family and Women in November 2016.

Unicef supported various interventions to bolster the campaign and support actors on the ground. Research was carried out to generate evidence on child marriage, which was used to raise awareness among the public and policy makers. UNICEF also lobbied MPs to align Cameroon's legal age of marriage at 18 years old.

Created By
Dominique Catton
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Credits:

text and images © UNICEF/Dominique Catton

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