One Thursday morning I arrived to school very early and the first person I looked for was my friend Aurora. She hadn’t come to class the last few days and I was beginning to worry.
I asked the other students if they had seen her but no one gave me a positive answer, not even my teacher, who asked me to visit her and see if she wasn’t doing well or needed any help.
Aurora is my friend. She was my neighbour but her family moved to the other side of the village, close to the river. She is 13 years old, one year older than me.
When I got to her home, I was surprised to hear drums and a big celebration going on. I spied through the open door and saw Aurora, covered in a white blanket. Her family would throw coins and bills on her. It seemed Aurora was ready to do the initiation ritual into becoming a woman but she seemed so scared I decided to go in and support her.
Her family did not mind me being there and they happily invited me to dance with them. Once it was over, they left us alone and it was then that Aurora told me with tears in her eyes that she was afraid to do the ritual, she was not interested in knowing what men wanted and above all she wanted to return to school. The worst part was that she was engaged to be married with an older man who would come one month after the ritual. That´s when I became scared too, I could not imagine my friend with a husband, let alone with kids.
That’s when I remember Feliciano, the APE, who visited our village to counsel the community. His job was to help families and give children their vaccines, but sometimes he would give advice to the community. One day I heard him talk about the importance of respecting tradition but he also said that traditions should respect children’s rights. Feliciano was a special person and everyone trusted him.
In the meantime I quickly went to my teacher’s house. I told him everything and he became worried, he told me he did not like the idea of losing one of his best students.
He went to see Aurora’s family. Her parents were not very happy when the teacher began talking about Aurora’s rights.
- Xiii... What rights are you talking about? She is our daughter and we get to decide what is best for her. The ritual is a necessity in our culture. It is our tradition, do you understand?
- I agree with the ritual, what I am worried is what Aurora told Vitória about getting married to a man from another village. She is still a child and even though she may be ready for the ritual that does not mean she is ready to wed.
- You know nothing, nothing at all. We already made the agreement with the other family and they will arrive on the day we set. Above all, this matter is our own, not yours. Now please, let us be, we have things to do.
My teacher and I left Aurora’s home feeling disappointed. He told me he would talk with Feliciano, the APE, to know what could be done to help her. Aurora was not the only girl in our school facing this problem, there were three more girls who had stopped coming to school in the past weeks.
He went looking for APE Feliciano, and together they planned a meeting on the weekend in school. The headmaster, my family, some other people and I helped by calling all the members of the community. Feliciano and my teacher were happy to see that even the Head of the Administration – who was casually visiting a nearby village - had come. According to her, the government was more and more concerned with this matter.
Feliciano and the teacher sat in the center and asked everyone to listen quietly to later on discuss things in order. Then they told them they would discuss the initiation rituals and underage marriage.
Everyone began murmuring. Then, came the community healer who sat near the teacher and greeted everyone. Not long after, arrived the Community Chief followed by a religious leader who sat in front of Feliciano. He greeted him by slightly vowing his head respectfully. Everyone remained silent and Feliciano took the chance to speak.
- Dear community members, we are gathered here today with this teacher and Vitória, who urgently asked for this meeting because she is concerned for her friend Aurora. The teacher here says that a group of girls have stopped coming to school because apparently they are being prepared for their initiation ritual. That is very important in our village, isn’t it? But I would like to ask you something. Don’t you think that there are things that are said and done in the ritual that aren’t appropriate for young girls? Do you really think it is more important for our girls to know how to satisfy a man before studying to prepare themselves to be important people for our community in the future? I think we can improve our rituals if we respect everyone’s rights, and…girls and women have rights.
That’s when an argument began, a man said:
- Let’s see…our tradition is like that, it’s always been like that…Why do we have to change it now?
- Because times change, and it is always good to distinguish between what is good and what is bad. Let us think of our daughters not just as women who deserve respect, but as human beings who have rights. Pregnancy in underage girls brings enormous health risks, birth giving can be long, complicated and they may die. A young girl who is still a child does not have the capacity to defend herself from the abuse of an adult person.
It was then that a woman raised her hand to speak.
- I am going to be the godmother of one of these young girls, and honestly I do not feel very comfortable talking about sex with someone who is still so young, but that is the way I learned, what can I do?
- That is a good question, thank you for your participation.
The religious leader then intervened and very wisely said:
- This is a good discussion and it is also necessary. I too have been thinking on how to change some aspects of our rituals that seemed good in our times, but today we see they are not. I think it is important to think about the future and not limit ourselves with the past.
Suddenly the Head of Administration said.
- I think the godmother should give advice on the importance of family, talk about love and how to understand the changes in their bodies, and their rights and duties first as a girl and then as a woman.
The teacher then added:
- It is also important that she understands the importance of studying to have opportunities in her adult life.
- It would also be good to be able to choose freely who to love and marry- said Aurora with conviction
– I don’t want to be a mother yet, I am afraid to. I want to live my adolescent life without assuming the obligations of an adult, because I am not an adult.
Everyone remained silent and then I said:
- Our families should not negotiate our destiny. We are girls and women. We deserve respect and the same opportunities such as boys and men.
At that moment part of the community began applauding. Everyone began talking and making comments, it seemed the discussion was going well. Then a young man asked:
- But what happens if my family and me already made the payment for one of these girls, what should we do?
Then everyone began murmuring until Feliciano intervened again:
- Let’s see, here are many parents with their daughters on their laps listening to this discussion. Could you imagine your girls getting ready to leave with a man just as old as you? Men… let’s look at this clearly. I think it is impossible to believe that a girl who still plays with dolls, just because she made a ritual, should be seen as a woman. It all comes down to conscience, as developed as a girl’s body maybe, her spirit and world is still that of a child’s. The ritual should prepare them for life, not for men.
And again, the comments began, other people intervened, even the community’s healer was willing to accept these changes and what he said meant a great deal to everyone.
- Personally, I don’t like that small girls do the ritual. I think it would be better if they finished their studies first and be grownups to do it. I have a daughter and my dream is that she becomes a doctor…
Everyone was in awe when they heard him speak that way. Nobody had thought of those things, simply because they thought traditions should be respected as they were. The discussion continued and after three hours, everyone agreed on makingsmall changes to the ritual. The Head of Administration also became committed to keeping close watch of these situations and to try and motivate colleagues to support a behavioral change in families, to respect the rights of these young girls’ education and health while they were still children.
In the end, everything turned out well and the three girls were able to go back to school. Their parents agreed to postpone the ritual so they could finish studying. I think everyone feels better now. Aurora and I are closer friends than we ever were and we were both invited by Julia to collaborate in the Community Radio of the village. Julia is the broadcaster of a Children Program of Radio Mozambique in Maputo. She said we could use the radio to denounce any problem and fight together so no one forgets our rights.
A desk review on child marriage and sexual initiation rites completed and research begun on children’s perceptions around their participation in sexual initiation rites, analysing their expectations and the correlation between “rites and child marriage”. Research begun into social norms in rural sanitation and social norms and social marketing in the sanitation area in small towns, with the data collection completed in Tete and Inhambane provinces.
One thousand and twenty (1,020) health workers and APEs were trained in inter-personal communication skills with the support of UNICEF.
UNICEF finalised the Information, Education and Communication package about birth registrationto help the registration officials of the Ministry of Justice improve inter-personal communication with the beneficiaries. Two thousand (2,000) copies were printed and distributed in all the country’s provinces.
UNICEF has developed and implemented the strategy of social influencers’ engagement at community level in Tete and Zambézia provinces. Forty thousand (40,000) copies of the booklet for Religious Leaders for the Promotion of Children’s Rights were printed and distributed. In June 2014, the alliance with religious denominations was launched in coordination with the Council of Religions of Mozambique.
With UNICEF support, more than 1.2 million people were reached in the rural areas of Zambézia, Tete, Cabo Delgado and Nampula with participatory sessions of communication for development using cinema and community theatre organised by the Institute of Social Communication (ICS)and the CTK and GTR theatre groups. More than 2.5 million people were made aware of the rights of children with disability through the multi-media campaign.
Approximately 1,500 child journalists and producers were trained and were given space on the radios and on TVM to express their opinions about their rights.
Through public and private advocacy, Civil Society Organisations, with the support of UNICEF and partners, ensured that during the revision of the Penal Code the interests of children were safeguarded. The celebration of the Day of the African Child was marked by the launch of the CD "Música é Vida" (“Music is Life”), produced by UNICEF and the Ministry of Health, with the support of 14 Mozambican singers, under the leadership of the musician Stewart Sukuma. More than 600 children, youths and adults took part in the concert, which was transmitted to millions of people throughout the country. In the framework of the celebrations of the 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a photographic exhibition was organised portraying the 25 years of the Convention in Mozambique. Opinion editorials signed by the UNICEF Representative and by the renowned Mozambican writers Mia Couto and Paulina Chiziane were published in the main newspapers. Also during the celebrations, the singer Neyma was appointed the new UNICEF Ambassador for Mozambique.
In 2014, the activities on the UNICEF Mozambique digital platforms for public advocacy reached 17.4 million people on the Facebook social network, 19.7 million on Twitter, 165,000 on Google Plus, 103,000 on Pinterest, 113,200 on the website, and 16,700 on the various UNICEF microsites.