Tears filled our eyes as we waved good-bye to our friend, Mafatuma. We were uncertain of what her future held as she returned to her family. Just a few months before they were planning to marry this fourteen-year old girl to a 45-year old man! A note was slipped under our door early that morning from Ansu (John-Mark’s friend and ministry partner that lives next door to us with his family). The note briefly explained that Mafatuma could no longer live here; she was going back to her family across the border in Guinea.
Our hearts sunk. How could we allow her to go back after all she had gone through to escape? She came to live with her uncle, Ansu, and his family in February 2013 after running away from home to avoid the marriage. She worked so hard to help build our house and even though she spoke just a few words of English, she loved us and we loved her. We couldn’t stand the thought of seeing her go. We rushed through breakfast and joined the family in the yard as she packed her only belongings on the back of the motorbike.
Ansu explained that he received a call from Mafatuma’s mother early that morning. She insisted that Mafatuma be returned to her family immediately. Mafatuma’s father was threatening to kill her mother if she did not return. The situation was grave. Our minds raced to find some other solution. Were there no child protection laws? Where are the social workers? What about Samaritan’s Purse? There are some child protection organizations in Liberia. However, since Mafatuma is Guinean there is not much they could do for her. With no other option, we yielded to Ansu’s greater understanding of the situation. I handed Mafatuma a picture of our family and some money to call if she needed help. Then off she went with Ansu on the back of the motorbike.
We were heartbroken thinking about Mafatuma living with parents that were so willing to marry her off to some man three decades older than her. Who would do that? Parents are supposed to protect their children! Later on, we got a few more details about her story.
Mafatuma comes from a Muslim family that practices Folk Islam. Like the majority of the Manya people, they combine animistic practices (witchcraft) with Islam. Mafatuma’s great uncle went to a moriman (Muslim shaman) to make some ‘medicine’ to help prosper him in some way, probably financially. As payment for the moriman’s work, he promised to give his young niece to the man in marriage. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon situation and young girls are often married against their will to older men.
Earlier this month, Ansu traveled to Guinea to attend his grandfather’s funeral. He also spent several days in family meetings regarding Mafatuma’s case. Thankfully, the family has agreed she will not be forced to marry this man. However, her refusal and running away caused the family great shame. In other Muslim contexts, her actions could have led to an honor killing. Thankfully Ansu helped facilitate some family reconciliation and reconciliation with the man that she was to marry. The goal was to save face. Ansu was successful and we were happy to hear that Mafatuma is safe and doing well. She was very happy to hear about Noah’s birth, sent us a picture of herself, and sent greetings to everyone in Voinjama. We are all hoping she can come for a visit once things cool down a bit at home.