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Somalia’s orphan mothers
Africa

Somalia’s orphan mothers

Hani Awil Omar is a 16-year-old orphan. She has a baby and has already been married and divorced. Hani and her three younger sisters have been living in the Boondheere Orphanage in Mogadishu for the past six years. During the Covid pandemic, the government ordered the orphanage to close. The 1,300 girls who lived and studied there were sent back to their home areas. Some of the girls have lost one or both of their parents, while others stay at the orphanage because their families cannot afford to look after them. Hani is one of nine orphanage girls who were forced into marriage by their home communities during the pandemic. An arrangement was made for her to marry a 21-year-old man who she had only known for two weeks. She went to live with him and his family and soon became pregnant Things did not work out well for Hani. Less than a month after her child was born, her parents-in-law told her they had decided to send their son to Turkey and that he would have to divorce her, she returned to Boondheere Orphanage when her baby was four months old. She was determined to look after her three sisters and continue her education. “I got so upset when I saw the orphan girls in their school uniforms. I wept because I thought that as a mother I would have to stop my education. I decided to speak to the manager of the orphanage, Nurta Mohamed Adow, about my problems. She worked magic for me and said I could come back to school even though I had a child.” Three of the nine girls who married during the pandemic have resumed their studies. The other six have moved back to the orphanage but do not go to school. Some of them are still married while the others are already divorced, the manager of the orphanage says she is doing all she can to ensure the teenage brides continue their education. “During Covid, some communities married off the orphan girls for financial gain,” says Nurta. “Their bodies and brains are not ready for them to bear and rear children. Some of the young mothers were quickly divorced and abandoned by their husbands. We are doing what we can to raise awareness about the dangers of early marriages but there was nothing we could do when the girls were sent away when the orphanage was shut down during the pandemic.” Another girl who was forced into marriage is Halima Hassan Abdirahman. She lives at the orphanage because her parents are too poor to care for her. “My father made me marry a man who I didn’t know at all. We got divorced very quicky and I rushed back to the orphanage. I was so happy when the manager said I could continue my education. I was also relieved that the other girls at the orphanage treat me as a normal person even though I have already been married and divorced at such a young age.” Nurta says the aim is for the girls to continue with their education after completing secondary school. She wants the government to pay for them to go to university in the same way the Ministry of Education and the Benadir Regional Administration fund the orphanage, including its school. The young orphan mother, Halima, cuddles her baby. She says that although she loves her child, her experience has made her a passionate opponent of early marriage. “I encourage all young girls to beware of marriage. They must not neglect their education. They must learn from the Somalia proverb that says, ‘When you climb a tree too quickly you are bound to fall down from that tree just as fast’. In other words, if you get married to soon, you are bound to get divorced in no time at all.”

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