Overcoming child marriage to pursue an education - Zainab's story

15 February 2018

Zainab Binta Jalloh a 23-year-old university student from Koinadugu district attended the UNFPA-supported National Girls Camp in Freetown. Zainab was married when she was 15 years old. Zainab is attending the 8th African Conference on Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights held in Johannesburg, South Africa. Zainab tells her own story of child marriage, and how she overcame it to pursue her education.

“I was in junior secondary school at the age of 13-years-old when my parents decided to marry me off to an unknown 45-year-old man. He was rich and he was using his wealth to influence my parents. My parents were pressuring me about him every day. But I always resisted them. 

I went to school and I explained my situation to a friend and she advised me to join the Children’s Forum Network.  Through the network, I was fortunate to be part of the National Girl's Camp which was organized by the Office of the First Lady and UNFPA. There I learnt from women who would become my role models through their inspirational stories.

On my return home, the pressure for marriage continued and this time my parents told me they would disown me if I continued to decline the marriage.  I was left with no choice…. I married him.

Can you imagine he had another wife who is older than my mother? This had been unknown to my parents and I.  

The older wife, ensured I was isolated and assigned all the tasks in the home. I had no friends and I could not interact with the neighbours.

When he returned home from work at night he would force himself on me. 

I longed to go back to school. I wanted to learn. I had dreams I hoped I would fulfil and they seemed to be slipping away from me.  Out of desperation, I decided I would ask him, I said, “Mr., you promised me that after the marriage you are going to send me back to school. When will I be restarting school?” He responded firmly, “You are here to pay for all the money your parents took from me so don’t even think you are going back to school or to your parents. You are here to satisfy my needs okay.” 

I was speechless...  

I had a second opportunity to attend the National Girls Camp supported by UNFPA, from my interaction and my learning at the camp. After which, I decided I had to run away. I went to my elder brother [who lived] in another town and who was unaware of my marriage as he had travelled to Guinea. I explained to him the situation. He decided to send me back to school. 

I went to school and completed my West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE). I was fortunate to meet the requirements and was accepted into university. I registered for a first Bachelor of Science degree in public health and I am currently enjoying life as a student! Someday I hope to save enough money to study to be a medical doctor.”