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Let's Talk Human Rights

Mébét Movie Screening and Roundtable on Child Marriage

By Noah Aschemeier and Sofia Zunt


On February 1, the Human Rights Center screened the movie Mébét, a powerful film that explores childhood marriage and its consequences in The Gambia. The movie follows a young girl, Njillan, who rushes home after getting the news that she has been granted the opportunity to pursue higher education. At the same time, her father had already agreed to marry her off, which ultimately became a reality. A traditional wedding ceremony is hosted by her family, and she is officially wed. The film then flashes forward to Njillan, who dies upon giving birth to her son, thus ending her dreams of pursuing further education and escaping from the societal norms of her community. 

Mébét artfully illustrates that a film doesn’t need to be long or full of dialogue in order to convey important lessons. As the director, Ousman Jarju, stated during the roundtable discussion on child marriage, “If I can show it, then no one needs to say it.” This quote encapsulates a key message of the movie, where visually, culture takes the front seat, leaving the dialogue element in a supporting role. Ousman explained that it is important to him as an African director to illustrate the role of society and culture and their value, to increase understanding of all the dimensions of why difficult issues like child marriage are challenging to solve in traditional and underresourced societies. 

The most important takeaway from the film is its depiction of child marriage and its continued practice across continents. Child marriage is defined as a person entering marriage before the age of 18. UNICEF Data shows that each year 12 million girls become child brides across the globe. The target audience for the film is rural communities in The Gambia and across Africa, while the creators note that child marriage continues to take place in many countries, including the U.S. According to UNICEF USA, in 2021, New York became the sixth state to ban child marriage, with no exceptions. 44 U.S. states still allow children under the age of 18 to marry under certain circumstances.


Mébét is dedicated to Musu Bakoto Sawo, a survivor of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and child marriage. At the panel discussion which followed the screening, Musu shared her personal story of being married off at a young age. At the age of 14, Musu’s parents decided to marry her off to a man who lived abroad and would come to The Gambia twice a year. This was a man who she did not know and had never met before in her life. She explained how she, as a woman, was only expected to take care of household chores and raise her children. She noted that traditionally “A woman's voice is not supposed to be loud,” and they are expected to obey the standards that have been set for them. Unlike Njillan, she was able to continue her school after being married since her husband lived mostly away. Musu excelled in school and genuinely loved learning and studying. She told stories of how she would be cooking dinner with one hand and holding a textbook with the other. 

When talking about her frustrations of being married at such a young age, Musu said, “I knew that if I did not get out of this marriage, I’d end up part of the statistics.” Luckily, she was able to negotiate with her relations and pursue her dreams of becoming a lawyer while still married. Her husband paid for her tuition to attend university, and she was about one year away from obtaining her law degree before he passed away. Traditionally, a widow would then be married off to a brother or a different male relative in the family. Musu was able to stand up for herself and go on with her life independently with her daughter. However, she had no way of paying for her schooling. After discussing with her university and explaining her situation, she was able to complete her law degree. 


Now, Musu works as a lawyer and human rights defender and has nearly 20 years of experience advocating for women's and children's rights. She is dedicated to ending FGM, child marriage, and other harmful traditional practices in her lifetime. Musu’s story is not unique, as there are so many girls and young women in The Gambia and beyond who go through similar experiences. However, she is able to resist and fight  against patriarchal traditions through her activism, reminding us all that “we must never undermine the change we can make using our voice and creativity.”


Noah Aschemeier is a senior Human Rights Studies major from Findlay, Ohio. As an intern at the Human Rights Center, Noah focuses on further developing the Africa Program, conducting research on both immigration and violent extremism funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and assisting with the environmental justice and indigenous rights podcast. He is also involved in the Sustainability Activation Program on campus. His interest centers around environmental policy and practices and how they can be further improved in the future. 

Sofia Zunt is a sophomore from Cleveland, Ohio. She is currently pursuing a degree in Sustainability with a concentration in Food Systems. From an early age, Sofia became interested in sustainability and human rights through school programs and history classes. She is passionate about climate justice, sustainability on campus, and food justice. As an intern for HRC, she will be starting out working with the Abolition Ohio team and is looking forward to working with other teams in the future. After graduation, Sofia hopes to pursue a career related to her love for cooking along with the sustainable development of food.

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