Tcherno Malam Seide is a young imam who serves as the child protection officer for the Sintchan Alanso community in the Bafatá Region of Guinea-Bissau.
Malam attended the Cross-Border Meeting on Respect for Human Rights, which was held in Amdalie, The Gambia, on December 15, 2023. The meeting covered topics such as gender-based violence, child and forced marriage, and the abandonment of female genital cutting. He discussed the effects of Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP) on his community and his personal experience after completing Tostan’s classes.
He was especially grateful that he could learn to read in his native language with Tostan. The religious leader stated that community members never had the chance to learn how to read their native language. Through their learning journey with Tostan, they gained the ability to read and write in their mother tongue, despite already being proficient in speaking it.
Before Tostan’s literacy program, people in the community had limited awareness of child protection.
As an imam, I had previously forgotten what the protection of children was and, as result, I took actions that violated these [children’s] rights. However, since joining Tostan’s classes, everything I learned in the sacred book[The Quran] resurfaced. Since then, I have been a promoter of human rights and I advise parents to abandon early and forced marriages. Today and for the rest of my life, my main goal is to protect children and underprivileged individuals in my community.”, he says.
The young imam shared an episode where he prevented the marriage of a girl under 12 years old in his community. He shared:
When I learned that this marriage was about to be consummated, I made the decision to advise the parents to interrupt the ceremony and wait for the girl to reach 18 years old. Without the knowledge I gained from Tostan’s program, I would not have been able to convince the parents of the girl.”
According to the young religious guide, early and forced marriage has many harmful consequences, such as pregnancies at a young age where the minor can lose her life at the time of birth. Other cited examples include misunderstandings between the couples and economic hardship.The religious leader also commented on the most sensitive and deeply-rooted practices upheld by social norms, such as female genital cutting (FGC).
In the past, our elders practiced FGC. However, the health sector now informs us that this practice harms the health of our girls and women, which is why we must abandon it. It is important to note that this very old tradition does not affect anything in religion. Abandoning FGC will shift attitudes and encourage more people to give up this practice, whose value is often misunderstood in our communities.”, He said.