When Norhata was just 14 years old, her parents arranged for her to marry a much older man. Her life changed overnight, and her dreams of a future career seemed impossible. However, despite criticism from her husband and family, Norhata fought to continue her education. With the support of Islamic Relief’s project which is helping to empower women in the Philippines, and through immense courage and determination, she pursued her dreams.

The United Nations estimates that worldwide, 1 in 5 girls are married as minors. Many are married under the age of 12, and some girls are married as young as 8 years old. These children are often forced to leave school and later are unable to find work. This makes them entirely dependent on their husbands and in-laws, which is a severe violation of their human rights.

Every child has the right to go to school, build their own life, and make a living for themselves. Norhata is one of the many brave young girls who resisted a life that others tried to choose for her.

Getting married at a young age

“I am the oldest child in our family of 6,” says Norhata. “When they told me the news of my upcoming wedding, I was shocked and started to cry. I didn’t know what to say.

“I wondered if I should refuse. Was it still up for debate? How soon would I be married?,” she says. “Because I was afraid of my father, I could not convince him not to marry me off at a young age.”

That night Norhata saw her dreams go up in smoke. She realised that she probably wouldn’t be able to go back to school after the wedding.

“I was actually a very good student at school,” says Norhata, describing how her grades in school were very good, and that she regularly participated in extra school activities.

Dreams in tatters

Norhata had imagined herself pursuing various career paths, but now feared that she would only ever become a bride and a mother.

“Without my consent, I was married when I was 14. My husband was a widower who had already 7 children that I was expected to care for.”

Norhata dropped out of school. Within 3 years, she was pregnant with her first daughter. However, her dream of finishing her studies remained.

“I told myself that if I can get my education, I can change my daughter’s life. She can also go to school. I want to be a role model for her,” says Norhata.

Taking action together with Islamic Relief

Norhata then learnt about the importance of women’s and girls’ rights through Islamic Relief.

“The first workshop I participated in was about women’s rights and empowering women. I have become stronger because of all the knowledge I have gained. Islamic Relief has supported me enormously in this. I now know that child marriage is a violation of girls’ rights,” she says.

Norhata was then offered a place in a vocational course that Islamic Relief and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency ( SIDA) are running as part of a major peacebuilding project in Maguindanao.

She received a dressmaking starter kit, which included materials and a sewing machine. Norhata, along with her 23 classmates, was then taught how to produce clothes to sell.

After completing her course, Norhata became 1 of the 166 students to graduate through the project.

“My life has completely changed. I am now a nationally certified dressmaker and have developed more self-esteem and confidence. I had the opportunity to participate in various activities, training, workshops and trips to other areas to represent our group.

“We’ve shown girls and women in our community that they don’t have to limit themselves. I am proud that I can contribute in this way by showing the importance of education and the need to end child marriage.

“I want my daughter to be able to live a happy life without any problems. For her to get a good education and marry the love of her life when she grows up, that’s what I hope for my daughter’s future,” says Norhata.

Islamic Relief work to provide information to parents, teachers, village heads and local organisations around the harm caused by child marriage, as well as emphasising the importance of girls’ education. We also facilitate women’s training in conflict mediation and support girls with education and livelihood opportunities.

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