AFRICAN COUNTRIES TOGETHER WITH THE AFRICAN UNION DECLARE WAR AGAINST CHILD MARRIAGE
The world has slowly become conscientized as we head towards becoming a global village, more emphasis is being laid to ensure that peace, justice and human rights is achieved. Even though governments may not set out to ensure these become a reality in their countries, stakeholders such as civil society, UN Bodies and multi-lateral institutions are key players and have dedicated efforts in making this a priority across the world. Violence against woman and other human rights violations against women and girls have become rife; to some extent we can even say endemic. According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 3 women have experienced Violence in her lifetime. This refers to sexual, physical, psychological and other forms of violence and aggression towards women and girls.
Africa through the African Union just hosted the first ever Girls Summit to be organized in the region, the summit was hosted in Zambia. The focus of the summit was to strengthen the continental efforts to end child marriage. Across the world, more than 40million girls have been married off before their 18th birthday. In Africa these figures become even soared according to countries, for example in Niger, more than 70% girls are married before their 8th birthday. This to me paints a picture of a normalized pervasive culture, one that deems it fit to violate girls’ rights, doom them to the cycle of poverty and curtail their efforts towards participating fully and effectively in their societies.
The summit brought together various stakeholders who are key in the fight against child marriage, particularly being cognizant of all the dimensions that should be taken into consideration when discussing child marriage. Government officials, United Nations Agencies, traditional leaders, civil society, young people, artists, goodwill ambassadors and private sector were those present at the summit. A clear message reverberated throughout the summit, Africa will not continue to allow her girls to be victims of child marriage, not in the name of culture, not in the name of poverty and certainly not in the name of ignorance
The recognition of loss in human capital, economic development and violation of rights as perpetuated by child marriage was pronounced and well articulated. Most importantly was the emphasis on addressing child marriage as a gender inequality issue and recognizing the role of quality education for girls in ending child marriage. The summit in an attempt to leave no one behind went to great lengths to feature the voices of all affected and part of the problem namely the girls who have been victims of child marriage and traditional leaders.
The various issues that are interconnected with child marriage such as girls being denied education, normalized harmful gender relations and sexual exploitation were tabled. This was a great start, to ensure that the problem of child marriage is illuminated on closely and the multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination that girls in such unions face are well articulated. To address girls access to quality education calls for discussing their retention, completion and transition within education systems. At the same time, their access to water, sanitation and hygiene facilities and menstrual hygiene is crucial coupled with addressing the burden of unpaid care work that child brides have to endure.
African young people, heads of governments, civil society and other stakeholders made a case for abandoning child marriage. An African Common Position was the outcome of the meeting and the voices of those who spoke a mark of commitment.
We must all now brace ourselves and protect the dignity , human rights and place of girls in our society, commit to uphold societies free from violence against women. We must make the commitments and the voices featured during the summit worthwhile for African Girls. I firmly believe that my generation is the first and has a real chance in ending child marriage!!