13-year-old Hawa from Somalia was almost forced to leave school and abandon her dreams of becoming a doctor when her uncle tried to marry her to an older man in exchange for camels. Here she shares her story.

I come from a remote village in Qandahar but lived with my father so that I could go to a good school. My mother, brother and two sisters still live in Qandahar. I dreamed of studying medicine. That dream was shattered when one day a man from our neighbouring village showed up to speak to my father and uncle.

He wanted to marry me.

My father was against the marriage proposal because I was only 13. But my uncle thought otherwise. He and other family members had given some goats as a dowry for my mother and saw this as his chance to get them back. My father had no choice and had to accept that I would be married off.

But then another man came, who also wanted to marry me. The 2 men began to compete, bidding more and more. Then my uncle preferred to marry me off to the second man, because according to him, he had a better offer that would benefit our family more.

My mother refused

My father went to my mother to convince her that I had to drop out of school. But my mother refused to give permission. She said she would only let me get married if that is what I decided for myself, and I told her that I didn’t want to be married this young.

My parents decided that I didn’t have to get married and that I could stay in school and finish my education. Only my uncle remained angry and threatened that he would take me against my will and marry me off after all.

Two years later, he is still trying to convince me that I need to be married off, but that is not how I envision my life and I am grateful to my mother who knew that her daughter had dreams beyond being someone’s wife.

My 2 younger sisters are now also going to school, but I fear for their future. In the end I was not married off before I turned 18, but this could still happen to them.

Supporting girls like Hawa

Hawa wants to become a doctor so she can support her family and help her community. She still has 2 years to finish school and hopes that her family will persevere and continue to support her until she reaches her goals.

Her story is unfortunately not uncommon in Somalia, where child marriage is a deeply-rooted tradition.

Islamic Relief are working to end the harmful practice of early-forced marriage.

It is crucial to continue educating girls, but poverty forces many parents to consider marrying off their underage daughters. For that reason, Islamic Relief ensures that girls from vulnerable families receive free meals at school, as well as food to share with their families. We also train girls to work independently after they finish school, so they can earn an income and support their families.

Islamic Relief uses faith-based perspectives to campaign against early and forced marriage as part of our strategy to promote universal human rights and in particular, to establish gender justice.

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