21 July 2017
Kuuntunna is a farmer who has many dreams for his seven-year-old daughter. None of them involves seeing her become a child bride. Yet he fears this chilling prospect because he lives in a part of Ghana where many girls are abducted and forced into child marriage. Poverty and patriarchy drive the problem. But men can also be part of the solution. Meet four men who are standing with local women and ActionAid to tackle child marriage in northern Ghana.
The dad standing against child marriage
Sitting on the dusty porch of his daughter's school, Kuuntunna describes his hopes for her future.
"I wish that Porshia grows up to be a nurse or a teacher," he said. "I'm so happy that she goes to school, because I didn't go to school. So I wish that one day she grows up to be somebody more important than me."
But Kuuntunna, who grows millet and guinea corn for a living, fears that Porshia's potential could be cut short by child marriage.
I wish that Porshia grows up to be a nurse or a teacher.
The family lives in the Upper West region of Ghana, where more than 50 girls have been abducted for marriage in a year.
"Marriage by abduction is something that is happening in the community," said the 30-year-old. "So I have that fear."
The practice involves groups of men snatching girls who are on errands or travelling to school. The girls are taken to the men’s villages and forced to marry one of them.
Many parents, who lack money and influence, feel powerless to confront the kidnappers because of the threat of violence.
ActionAid supports communities to bring back abducted girls
ActionAid works in the Upper West region, where more than 70 per cent of the population live on less than 68 pence a day .
Our work includes training groups of villagers - men and women - to bring back abducted girls. The groups, known as COMBAT (community based anti-violence teams) have been trained by the police to confront perpetrators.
This often involves approaching the abductors or their village chief and threatening legal action if the girls are not released. This type of pressure has proved effective.
More than 150 girls have been rescued by COMBAT in the past five years. COMBAT's presence is also vital in remote villages where the nearest police station is several hours journey away.
Kuuntunna welcomes this support.
"If they take your daughter, you don't have the strength or money to get her back, so ActionAid's work matters," he said.
The village chief standing up to child marriage
ActionAid’s programme officer, Abiba, 31, has also been working with a network of influential male village chiefs to persuade them to fight child marriage.
If they take your daughter, you don't have the strength or money to get her back, so ActionAid's work matters.
Naa Mwinsaama Bondegbee the Second is a village chief in northern Ghana. He has attended several ActionAid workshops about child marriage.
When 14 girls from his village were abducted last year he took action, sending emissaries to secure the girls’ release. The 69-year-old said this earned him enemies, but he believes that keeping girls in school is more important.
"If girls finish school and get good jobs, the name of our village will shine," he said.
The granddad standing up to child marriage
When Dotto's granddaughter Fatima, 16, was abducted he sought help from school teachers, who have been trained by ActionAid to tackle child marriage.
They encouraged him to locate her. When Fatima's uncle and aunt brokered her release, men from the abductors' village brought her back to school.
Dotto, 76, now wants Fatima to complete her education and contribute to her community. He grows maize, yam and groundnuts and earns around 10 Ghanaian cedis (£1.80) a week.
"Educated people, people who have gone to school and are earning a salary, they are developing the world," he said. "I want Fatima to be one of them."
The dad helping his daughter overcome the stigma surrounding child marriage
When Mustafa's 14 year-old-daughter was abducted on the way home from school, he got help from ActionAid worker, Abiba. Abiba went to the abductors' village with the police and Mustafa and got Ama out.
"I was so happy when Ama was released because it means she can continue with her education and make her future better," said Mustafa, 53.
Today Ama is a dedicated student who loves studying science. She is also a member of ActionAid-funded girls clubs. The clubs are led by female teachers who support the girls to talk about their problems and learn about their rights to resist all forms of violence.
I was so happy when Ama was released because it means she can continue with her education.
But Ama, now aged 15, almost didn't return to school after her release. That's because some children teased her and called her a "new wife". Then, her dad gave her the pep talk she needed.
“My dad said those people laughing at me want me to drop out of school. He said they were just jealous of me," Ama said. "After that I wiped the tears from my face, got up and got my bathwater. When I finished bathing, I put on my uniform and went to school."
Please support women and men in Ghana to continue fighting child marriage. A regular gift from you will help us to reach many more girls such as Ama and support the work of committed campaigners to help end child marriage.
*Some names have been changed