After battling her own experiences of violence, Sarafina, an End Violence Champion, will stop at nothing to make change.
For years, Sarafina has fought to end violence against women and children in Ghana. Sarafina has been witness to violence throughout her life: first, when her mother suffered domestic abuse in her home, and later, when child marriage forced her friends from the classroom.
To combat these realities faced by countless women and girls, Sarafina became a World Vision Young Leader and a member of her school’s child parliament. In both roles, she has become an outspoken activist against child marriage, violence against women, and other forms of abuse and exploitation. In the future, Sarafina hopes to continue this work for life, inspiring others and bringing real, sustainable change across Ghana. She hopes to become both a medical doctor and a lawyer – combatting violence against women and girls from both the individual and national levels.
End Violence spoke to Sarafina about her experiences as a youth activist and her hopes for women and girls in her community.
1. What sparked your interest in preventing violence against women and children?
When I was younger, I lived with both my parents in Accra, Ghana’s capital. My father was always beating my mother, and again and again, it would upset me. I hated the way she was being treated, and as a child, I wasn’t happy. But when I was 6 years old, my grandmother came to visit us in Accra. I decided to follow her home, and we went back to the rural village where I was born.
My grandmother took over as my caregiver – and soon after, my brother came to stay with us as well. She sent us both to primary school and encouraged us to study, learn and stay safe. I’m still with my grandmother, and I have her to thank for so much.
Even so, growing up with that kind of abuse affected me. It made me more aware of domestic violence and abuse, not just among my parents, but among my entire community.
2. What types of challenges do children face in your community?
I live in a rural part of northern Ghana where there is an overall lack of education and awareness, along with ignorance about violence against children and its harms. Gender inequality is also a big issue, as many people don’t see why girls should be educated. Because of those reasons, there are a lot of challenges children face, including child marriage, child labour, violent discipline, early pregnancy, and more.
Many people do not have the proper education and awareness of violence against children. They see a lot of these things as normal. For example, in my community, you can see a little child – not even 3 years old – carrying loads on their head to sell. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, you can see children moving from house to house to sell things, hoping to earn a little money.
Many parents feel there is nothing wrong with giving their child up for marriage. They might give their daughter to a rich family, or to a family with higher authority, to raise their status within the community. They might give their daughter as an exchange, or to show appreciation to another family for something they have done.
These are social norms and traditional beliefs that have been practiced for years; they have been passed from generation to generation. It’s not that parents don’t care about their children – it’s just that this is the way things have been done for years, and families often do not fully understand the impact that early marriage, child labour, or violence has their children.
3. What do you do to combat violence against children in your community?
I joined the Child Parliament Club – which was organised by World Vision Ghana – about five years ago. I was a junior in high school, and at that time, I was reflecting a lot about my childhood. I thought about how my mother was beaten by my father, and how witnessing that abuse had affected me. I wanted to do something to educate people so that in the future, it wouldn’t be okay for a woman – or a child – to be beaten by a man.
Through the club, we talked about all the challenges facing children, including violence against children, child marriage, and more. I worked hard to raise awareness of these issues, and eventually was elected to become Speaker of the Parliament in 2017.
I started leading our discussions as a group, and soon began coordinating sessions within our community and those surrounding our village. The club represents all children in our community; we speak up because we know the types of challenges children are facing. Unless we speak up, adults will never understand our problems, which makes our club very important.
4. Did any particular area of violence against children interest you most?
I became particularly interested in child marriage, as I knew young girls would be even more at-risk of violence and abuse if married early. I didn’t want my friends, and girls in my community, to be taken from school only to be beaten by their husbands. If that happens, they won’t be able to achieve their dreams, and they won’t be able to help their communities by becoming a lawyer, a doctor, a journalist… if this happens, the cycle of poverty will continue, and continue, and continue. We’ll never see a change in the world or in our communities if this keeps happening.
I worked with our group to raise awareness of the importance of education for young girls and the impact of child marriage. We wanted to show people that girls can have a huge effect on their community if they are given the chance to learn and grow – if they have that, they can do anything.
I was eventually appointed by World Vision to become an Anti-Child Marriage Ambassador. In this role, I do everything possible to advocate for the rights of children and prevent child marriage. Over the past few years, I’ve held so many sessions to educate people about the lasting damage child marriage can cause – so many I can’t even count. We would use games, activities and even debates to engage people in these sessions, inviting schools and other groups to participate. This type of engagement is important, because many people in my community (and those surrounding) don’t have access to the internet, laptops or mobile phones.
Through these sessions, we’ve reached people in three regions of the northern part of the country.
5. What are you most proud of in your work with the Child Parliament Club?
Through our hard work, we have been able to influence a lot of people in our community – including our village chief. Because of our efforts, he has agreed to punish those that practice child marriage. Anytime we hear of a case, we now report to him immediately, which ensures these cases get taken care of before a child is taken out of school. This represents big progress, especially when you think the fact that child marriage is a longstanding norm for many families and communities.
In addition, through our club, we have been able to rescue three girls from early marriage. One of these girls was a friend of mine, whose parents had promised her to another family when she was still in school. She informed me – and a few other members of the Child Parliament Club – that she knew she could talk to. We went to our principal, and then to the village chief, both of whom gave us the go-ahead to speak with her parents.
At first, the girl’s parents couldn’t believe it. They said something like: Why would we listen to a child about managing children? I kept going, trying to educate them on the negative impact child marriage would have on their child, who was only 15 years old. I told them that if they still wanted to give up their child, we would involve the village chief. Eventually, they agreed to stop the marriage from happening and allowed her to continue her education.
At first, I was scared to speak to the girl’s parents. But after, I was so proud of myself. Adults had listened to us, and I was happy that parents had paid attention to children like ourselves. That feeling of achievement motivated me to keep going, and eventually prevent the marriage of two other girls – one of whom was still in primary school.
4. Has COVID-19 affected this work?
I am so, so worried about COVID-19’s effect on my community, especially on girls.
Every morning when I wake up, I think about the fact that I can’t keep doing my work within the community – but even more than that, the fact that children are out of school. Though the government has set up an online curriculum, most people in my community don’t have access to the internet, smart phones or laptops. This makes it nearly impossible for children to engage in online education.
Many parents think that their children will never go back to the classroom because they have spent too much time away from school. They also don’t think COVID-19 will come to an end any time soon, and with that in mind, they are beginning to question why they are keeping their young girls at home.
On top of that, during the pandemic, my group and I haven’t been able to continue our work, as it is not safe to go from house to house or to gather within the community. This is something that worries me so much, and I have no doubt that cases of child marriage are on the rise. All of this makes for a difficult situation.
5. What do you hope to do next? Will you continue this work after you leave school?
When I get older, I want to be a woman up high – whether I be on Parliament, in government, or in another place with enough authority to stand up for the rights of children and women. Right now, we don’t have enough people paying attention to the safety, rights and protection of these groups, and that’s something I want to change.
I will continue fighting to prevent violence until it becomes a thing of the past. The first way I plan to do this is to become a medical doctor. The reason for this is because I want to help people immediately. If I see a child who has been beaten and is almost about to die, I need the skills and expertise to save their life. After that, I will become a lawyer – and I’ll protect the rights of women and children as well.
6. What are your hopes for girls, both in Ghana and around the world?
Girls should grow up to be the ones leading our country. I want women to be part of Ghana’s development – not just men. The world needs our decisions, our opinions, and our ideas to move forward.
About End Violence Champions
As part of the Together to #ENDviolence global campaign, we are celebrating these individuals and the change they are helping to create. Through Q&A-style interviews, you will learn from practitioners, activists, researchers, policymakers and children about their successes, their challenges, and what they think is needed to end violence for good. Every month, we will feature someone working on this challenge from a different part of the world, shedding light on their impact and the efforts of their affiliated organisation, company or institution.
Do you know someone who should be featured as an End Violence Champion? Nominate them here!