J. from Kinshasa, Congo, is 17 years old. She gave birth 6 months ago. She arrived in Greece on foot, while she was pregnant. Someone had raped her in Turkey. She traveled alone. A victim of gender-based violence, she ran away from home to escape a forced marriage to a man of her father’s age.
The story of J. is a story whose childhood finished abruptly. Her father stopped her from school to marry her. Her mother helped her escape, gave her money and sent her to Turkey, in the hope that one day she will find her. There, the underage J. was raped. Her triple vulnerability (unaccompanied minor refugee, victim of gender-based violence, minor single mother) brings to the fore the reality of thousands of minor girls worldwide. The figures from international organizations are shocking:
*Child marriages | 23 girls every minute
Each year, some 12 million more girls will marry before reaching age 18 – and of those, 4 million are under age 15. About 40 million girls ages 15-19 are currently married or in a union worldwide. Save the Children’s Global Girlhood Report estimates that an additional 2.5 million girls are at risk of child marriage globally between 2020 and 2025, as a result of reported increases in all types of gender-based violence due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
**Gender based violence | almost 1 in every 3 women have been subjected to violence at least once in their lifetime.
Globally, an estimated 736 million women—almost one in three—have been subjected to physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence, non-partner sexual violence, or both at least once in their life. Violence starts early in the lives of women. Of those who have been in a relationship, almost 1 in 4 adolescent girls aged 15–19 (24 per cent) has experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner or husband. 15 million adolescent girls worldwide, aged 15–19 years, have experienced forced sex.
According to the Refugee and Migrant Children in Europe report of UNHCR, UNICEF and IOM, 17,200 unaccompanied minors arrived in Greece, Italy, Bulgaria, Spain, Cyprus and Malta in 2021. In Greece, the percentage of girls were 28%.
J. is one of the thousands of unaccompanied children who arrived in Greece and were helped by non-governmental organizations. J. found herself in a safe environment, where she lives with her baby, and is trying with a lot of support and care to get back on her feet and start a new life.
The EEA Grants Greece, through the “Asylum and Migration” programme offer safe and dignified accommodation to vulnerable refugee women and their children, underage mothers, and unaccompanied girls. So far, 273 women and children and 89 unaccompanied refugee or asylum-seeking girls have been accommodated in shelters of ARSIS, IRC, Médecins du Monde Greece, and Society for the Care of Minors. (Data up to December 2022).
“I left Congo because of my father, he was very mean to me, he wanted to marry me with a man older than me. This man was as old as my father. (My father) didn’t want me at home anymore, he was beating me every day, he didn’t let me go to school, sometimes he didn’t let me even eat. My mother told me that I must leave because if this situation continues it will hurt me (..). She told me that I should go to Turkey where it is cheaper, and she could pay for my ticket. “I don’t have enough money now to leave together, but one day I will come and find you” she promised. I was waiting for her every day... but I lost the contact with her. I lost my phone, so to this day that I am here, I have no contact with her. (..) In Turkey I didn’t know anyone, the people who came to pick me up from the airport took me to a house. There, a man raped me. After the rape, he disappeared. One day the owner of the house came and kicked us all out. When this happened, I started sleeping on the streets, I had nowhere to go. One day, I met a woman from Cameroon who suggested me to work in the restaurant where she was also working. To do the wishes, to clean… and she also said that I would be able to sleep in the restaurant. So, I was working during the day and at night, I was sleeping in the restaurant. One day she told me that she decided to leave Turkey and travel. I told her that I have no money and she said that she would support me. She did it because I was completely alone. (..) We were traveling for a month and a half, I didn’t know I was pregnant, there were many people, Syrians, Congolese, Cameroonians. We were walking, being exposed to cold and wet weather.. we were sleeping in the forest. One day we arrived “here“. I don’t even know where “here” is. The woman told me that she would continue the journey, but she couldn’t take me with her, because she did not have enough money. But she told me that I could stay here and that it would be fine. She left me in a house where there were many people. One day, they started asking for money for accommodation and food. I told them I have nothing, and they kicked me out. I started sleeping outside again. I didn’t know where the parks were exactly, but wherever I found a park, I stayed. There, I met another woman who helped me – she gave me a phone number to call a social service and ask for help. (..) First they took me to another organization, I have been here since June 2022… since I was 5 months pregnant. Since the day I came here, they have helped me a lot, they took me to the hospital, they gave me clothes, they gave me food, I am fine here. I take care of the baby, we sleep, we play… I want to start school, but first I will start lessons in Greek language. I want to find a job, take care of my child. (..)”.
The “Asylum and Migration” (Addressing urgent needs for the reception and screening of asylum seekers and for the accommodation of vulnerable groups) programme in Greece, financed by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, was awarded a total budget of 16,5 million euros as part of the EEA Grants 2014 – 2021. The program aspires to contribute to ensuring legal protection, support and care for the most vulnerable asylum seekers, with emphasis on unaccompanied children. The Fund Operator for the “Asylum and Migration” programme in Greece is SOL Consulting S.A in partnership with HumanRights360. More information: https://www.asylumandmigration-eeagrants.gr/el/
*Data from official websites of Unicef, Save the Children, unfpa.org, Girlsnotbrides.org.
** Data from official websites of Unwomen.org και unfpa.org.