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A UNICEF-supported centre in Mali helps young women in distress

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©UNICEF Mali/2006/Bakker
Korotoumou, 17, holds her baby girl, Bintou, at the Mousso Danbe girls’ support centre in Bamako, Mali.

BAMAKO, Mali, 20 June 2006 – “I love my baby,” says Korotoumou, 17, holding her year-old baby girl, Bintou, tightly against her chest. She knows that she might be holding Bintou for the very last time.

Already in her short life, Korotoumou has gone through so much unhappiness. Born to a poor rural family, she always had a difficult life. But her real troubles started when she was 14 and her father wanted her to marry an older man she didn’t like.

Rather than being forced into marriage, Korotoumou ran away from home, leaving her village for Mali’s capital, Bamako. She hoped to get a job, earn money and change her life. Three years later, she now faces the biggest challenge of her life.

‘Honour for women’

It is four o’clock in the afternoon and there is a heavy feeling of tension in the small room at the Mousso Danbe girls’ support centre. (Mousso Danbe means ‘honour for women’ in Bambara, one of the national languages of Mali.)

Korotoumou is here, with Bintou in her lap. Her father sits opposite and next to her is the director of Mousso Danbe, Madame Dembélé Mariam Sidibé, 75, a determined woman who has dedicated 55 years of her life to social action.

Korotoumou’s father has come to take her back to the village. The man who paid him a marriage dowry three years ago has run out of patience; he wants to marry Korotoumou and her father is determined to keep his promise. It has taken him three years to track his daughter down. He has also just discovered that Korotoumou has a baby girl and is not married, and that the father has disappeared. He wants her to leave Bintou behind.

“It’s not up to me to feed this child. I don’t have money for her. I don’t even have money to eat,” he says.

A long road ahead

Madame Dembélé’s role is that of negotiator. Every day, she and her 22 assistants are confronted with the cases of young girls in despair, like Korotoumou, who arrive at 11 centres run by Appui à la Promotion des Aides Familiales in Bamako. The girls – mostly young migrant workers who have left or been taken from their villages to work in the city – are usually escaping rape, forced marriage, sexual and physical abuse, and exploitation.

The centres take them in, teach them essential life skills, provide literacy training and help them find other employment. Staff members also intercede with employers to ensure that the rights and interests of the young girls are protected.

The Muso Danbe centres, supported by UNICEF since 2002, receive more than 1,000 young girls aged 13 to 20 each year. Despite the life-saving work they are doing, the centres face financial constraints that threaten the continuation of their work and are therefore seeking urgent funding support

Today, the intervention of Madame Dembélé has succeeded. After much discussion and negotiation, Korotoumou’s father has agreed to return to the village without his daughter. To compensate, he will receive the small amount of money she has saved from her salary, which he will give to her ex-fiancé.

Her father’s decision has given Korotoumou some hope, but she knows there is a long road ahead. She sighs with relief and exhaustion, holding Bintou more tightly in her arms.


 

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