Girls in Burkina Faso say ‘no’ to forced marriage

We profile the courageous girls standing up to forced marriage in Burkina Faso.

At 13, Maria (not her real name) was forced to marry a 70-year-old man who already had five wives. When she resisted, her father told her: “If you don’t go to join your husband, I will kill you.”

Maria walked nearly 170km over three days to a shelter for girls. She eventually returned home where, after interventions from the police, she was freed from her “marriage” and now lives with her family. She hopes to go to school one day.

More than half of all girls in Burkina Faso are forced into early marriage, some as young as 11. As a new government is poised to take power, this cannot be forgotten. In the meantime, girls like Maria are doing all they can to escape to refuges like the ones shown in these photographs. These shelters provide training and education, and prepare them for a new life outside the shelter.

Out of respect for the wishes of the girls featured here, these photographs do not reveal their identities.

A woman in a shelter for survivors of forced marriage
© Sophie Garcia/AI

Hidden refuge –a shelter for survivors of forced marriage in northeast Burkina Faso. With 52% of all girls married before age 18, Burkina Faso has the seventh highest rate of child marriage in the world.

two feet with bright pink plastic sandals with 'love' written on them, standing on red soil
© Sophie Garcia / AI

Rose, aged 15, has lived at this shelter for six months. “My father gave me in marriage to a shepherd. He already had a wife. I ran away the day of my wedding.” Rose’s favourite subject is history. She hopes to be a teacher one day.

A woman seated on a wooden bens with a red skir and her hands in her lap
© Sophie Garcia / AI

Josephine, aged 24 escaped to this shelter eight years ago. Forced marriage is when you are not able to enter into a marriage freely, because you are being pressured, or threatened with violence.