Mariama Mansaray is interviewed about her views on early marriage
Skipping home from school one day, a 10 year old girl named Mariama found her dad in an unusually happy mood. Ushering her inside, he ordered her to remove her school uniform and change into plain clothes – he had something to tell her. Despite his smiles, his news was devastating. He’d arranged for Mariama to be married to an older man she didn’t know, and despite pleading with her father about not wanting to get married so early so that she could stay in school, his decision was final.
Now aged 73, Mariama Mansaray was at a pre-recorded interview held in Kabala (northern Sierra Leone) recounting the day she found out she’d never go to school again. She had wanted to share her story for decades and had finally found her opportunity on Leh Wi Know, a BBC Media Action radio show that discusses women’s rights and access to justice in Sierra Leone.
That week’s episode addressed the issue of early and forced marriage in Sierra Leone, where despite changes in the law, some girls are still married off at the age of 10. Related problems include teenage pregnancy, increased infant and maternal mortality and denial of important rights such as access to education.
The show produced an avalanche of feedback on WhatsApp, an online messaging service, within minutes of the programme airing.
Some people were very upset. One user wrote, “it’s not a good act to force someone beyond her wish,” while another typed, “it’s a bad practice that should be stopped.” Others offered solutions, calling for the government to “jail anyone found guilty [of forced marriage] for 20 years,” with another saying, “we should be talking to women and encouraging them to report any cases to the Family Support Unit (FSU).” Some noted the reasons behind the continuation of early marriage, adding that “poverty and illiteracy are some of the reasons for most unreported cases.”
In addition to the live debate, WhatsApp is another way listeners can continue to engage with topics on BBC Media Action shows after they’ve finished airing. The BBC Media Action Sierra Leone WhatsApp channel has gained over 12,000 members since it launched and is now essential to the way we share information with listeners in each of our shows.
Advice and support
Although Mariama isn’t on WhatsApp, Leh Wi Know, gave her a powerful opportunity to tell her story – and spark a flurry of thought which shone a light on the issue of early marriage in Sierra Leone both in the online and offline worlds. It also acts as a sign-post for people in need of advice or support.
After telling her story, Mariama reflected that had awareness of the negative effects of child marriage been higher when she was younger, her father might not have forced her to marry at a very early age. Leh Wi Know, is a central part of making sure awareness of such issues remains in the spotlight – and that Mariama’s story isn’t forgotten.