'Knowing my rights saved me from forced marriage'

Zalissan, 14, comes from a village in northern Burkina Faso. We have been helping to deliver community and school-based training about the dangers of early and forced marriage and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in her local area. Zalissan’s village also has an ‘alert committee’ – a group of community members trained to detect, prevent and report these practices to the authorities.

'One day I came home from school and my mother and sister were talking about a wedding. I asked who was getting married and they said, "You are, ask your father about it, he’s made all the arrangements."'

Zalissan confronted her dad.

'This was a big shock. In Burkina Faso, children don’t question their elders’ decisions, so when he saw how bold I was being to question his decision to marry me off, he was afraid. He realised I knew my rights because of the training I had in my school and community.

'He said "You are too small to question my decisions", but I refused to marry the man he had chosen for me. They had chosen an 80-year-old man for me to marry and I am just 14. Because I refused, my dad called the other family and said we’d have to put the marriage on hold.'

Zalissan also turned to her local ‘alert committee’. They advised her to talk to her father and tell him they would help her. Early and forced marriage is illegal in Burkina Faso, so they said they would go to the police if needed.

'In the end, my dad didn’t go through with the marriage because he understood there were people committed to protecting me. Before, if a girl refused to get married in this way, she would be cast out of her community, but I’m still safe at home with my family, and the wedding has been called off.'

Thanks to everyone who supported our appeal to end early and forced marriage and FGM, young women like Zalissan know they have rights and can speak up for themselves when those rights are under threat.

Find out more about our Human Rights Education projects in West Africa.