If you’re a girl in Burkina Faso, chances are your childhood won’t last long. Forced early marriage is common, as is early pregnancy.
If you’re a woman, you may be denied contraception, simply because you don’t have your husband’s permission. And if you do manage to get contraception, you may be forced to use it in secret for fear of being accused of adultery by your partner or in-laws.
If you’re a rape survivor, pregnant as a result of that assault, you must pay for your own emergency medical care – something that is out of reach for most victims.
It’s an unsustainable situation. Burkina Faso’s girls want their childhoods back. Their mothers, aunts and sisters are fed up of being side-lined from the decisions that affect their lives. Stand with them today.
The government must educate parents to abandon traditional practices that are not good for girls.
Maria: “My dad married me to a 70-year-old man”
“I am the youngest in my family. My mum had six children. My dad has four wives. I never got to finish attending even the first year of primary school, I don’t know why my parents took me out of school. I had to spend my days helping out with household tasks.
"About two weeks ago my dad married me to a 70-year-old man who already has five wives. My dad threatened me saying: “If you don’t go to join your husband I will kill you.” I spent three days with my other co-wives at the house, then I fled. I walked for three days to get to the centre for young girls here.”
“Maria” was 13 years old when she spoke to Amnesty at a refuge for survivors of forced marriage in May 2015.
© Sophie Garcia/Corbis for Amnesty International
of girls in Burkina Faso marry before they are 18
of women in Burkina Faso use contraceptives – one of the lowest rates in the world
Céline: “I will use contraception secretly”
“I would have liked to have used contraception to ensure bigger gaps between my children. But my husband refused. So I refused to have sex with him during my fertile period. My husband got angry and hit me, but I didn’t give in.
“When you have a gap between your children, they grow up in good health.
“My friends talk about the cost of contraception. If I get the money, I will start using contraception secretly.”
Céline is 26 years old and has four children.
Unequal treatment denies women choice
In Burkina Faso, whether you’re a woman or a girl, you are prevented from making crucial decisions that belong to you. Decisions like whether or when to get married, whom to marry, and whether or when to get pregnant. These barriers to choice are fuelled by social attitudes that value men and boys over women and girls.
This discrimination results in abuses of the basic human rights of women and girls, including their right to life, to education and to quality health care, particularly sexual and reproductive health care.
Sometimes we don’t have any money to pay for contraception and that is how I came to have eight children.
Above all, this discrimination denies women and girls their sexual and reproductive rights – rights which allow them to freely make decisions about what happens to their bodies and their lives without threat of violence. This includes the right to proper information and services on sexual health, family planning and sexuality.
The consequences of these abuses are clear when you look at the numbers. More than half of all women in Burkina Faso were married before the age of 18, and 10% before they were 15. Only about 17% of girls are in high school. Many girls must give up school because they are forced to get married or to take on domestic work. By the time they are 19 years old, most girls have already become wives, and nearly half of all young women are mothers. Just 17% of women in Burkina Faso use contraception – one of the lowest rates of contraceptive use in the world.
In 2015, Burkina Faso adopted a national strategy to reduce child marriage by 20% by 2025. But this target is too little, too late. Burkina Faso is required under international law to take immediate and sustained action to eliminate “child marriage” and the many abuses of girls’ human rights it gives rise to.