In Burkina Faso, the Council worked to strengthen the skills and knowledge of adolescent girls who are married or at risk of child marriage.
Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world. Tradition, familial expectations, and a lack of opportunities for women result in a high proportion of girls marrying before the legal age of 17. This hinders their ability to complete an education and fulfill their potential. Girls who marry young are often the second or third wife of a partner who is substantially older. Once married, girls tend to be less mobile and have more limited social networks than unmarried girls. Newly married girls are expected to begin childbearing quickly; typically they give birth within the first 20 months following marriage. Few initiatives address the challenges facing married girls in Burkina Faso.
Since the early 2000s, the Population Council has conducted qualitative and quantitative research in Burkina Faso to identify girls’ needs and experiences. This research demonstrated that married Burkinabé girls had limited mobility, were burdened with numerous domestic duties, and lacked access to health centers.
Council findings guided the development of an innovative project that took place in 24 villages across five regions (Centre-Sud, Centre-Est, Est, Centre-Nord, and Sahel). Mères-éducatrices, or mother educators, worked with married girls and girls aged 10–19 at risk of early marriage. The majority of girls were out of school and they were given funds to begin an income-generating activity. Additionally, three times a month mères-éducatrices provided education sessions to girls on several key themes relating to early marriage (e.g., family planning, prenatal care, sexually transmitted infections, HIV, female genital mutilation/cutting, and fistula). They also made home visits and referrals to health facilities for girls who had sexual and reproductive health needs.
The project team worked directly with those who make decisions on behalf of adolescent girls, such as fathers, husbands, mothers-in-law, and other relatives. Communication teams comprising community members in each site made door-to-door visits; led awareness sessions and advocacy activities with adolescents’ parents, traditional leaders, and religious leaders about the dangers of child marriage and the importance of schooling; made case referrals to community facilitators or services provided by the Ministry of Social Action; and mediated threats of early marriage. Traditional and religious leaders reinforced the messages delivered by the program and were viewed as critical actors in the campaign against early marriage in their communities.
The Council assessed knowledge, attitudes, and practices related to early marriage and the lives of married girls in the five intervention regions. Results showed increases in knowledge of the minimum legal age of marriage among heads of households and adolescents, in adolescents’ knowledge of obstetric fistula and means to avoid pregnancy, and in adolescents’ use of sexual and reproductive health services, particularly for delivery assistance.
Council research demonstrates that even in rural, remote, resource-poor communities it is possible to identify, reach, and support married adolescent girls and those at risk of early marriage, and to find suitable local mentors for these girls.