TIME TO END CHILD MARRIAGE; AFRICAN GIRLS DESERVE BETTER
I once read of a story, a Ugandan mother who refused USHS.600,000 as dowry price for her daughter. Last year on Kenyan Television I watched the father of a young girl who was raped declare that he was ready to accept livestock from the rapist as long he will marry his 12 year daughter. All this came on the back of retrogressive actions in other parts of the world such as Bangladesh, where the country was considering a legal provision that would lower the legal age of marriage from 18 years to 16years.
These girls; the one whose father was willing to accept dowry form the rapist and the one whose mother refused dowry, are not isolated cases. If anything, they are an accurate but saddening reflection of a pervasive reality. A reality that dooms girls completely to the control of others; be it their parents, relatives and oppressive cultures that have been normalized to the detriment of young souls. To make even the picture more grim, 2 in every 5 girls are married off before the age of 18 in Sub Saharan Africa according to UNFPA
This assertion is corroborated by UNICEF, approximately 15 million girls are married every year before they reach 18 years. Furthermore, 1 in 4 girls alive today, globally, was married by 18 years, and 1 in 12 was married by age 15, and some as young as eight or nine. In South Asia 46% of girls below 18 are married; 39% are married in sub-Saharan Africa; 29% in Latin America and the Caribbean; 18% in the Middle East and North Africa; and in some communities in Europe and North America too. 700 million women alive today were married before their 18th birthday.
The numbers above are a representation of millions of girls across the world deprived of autonomy, freedom and choice to become women of their dreams. They have instead been doomed to endure the vicious cycle of poverty. In that cycle of poverty, their education is curtailed, robbed of their childhood and negotiation power to what happens to them transferred to their ‘husbands’ right away from their parents.
Due to policy incoherence and systemic inadequacies, the girls married off are unable to access certain health services especially as pertains to their sexual and reproductive health and rights. This further compounds onto the endless list of rights violations that the girls are forced to endure. Child marriage not only exacerbates poverty, but is served with a bloodcurdling cocktail of Female Genital Mutilation and other health complications such as fistula, ill mental health, possible maternal mortality and general ill health
Draw a line, Define the future we want for our African Girls
Fortunately through the African Union campaign to end child marriage, the continent has revitalized efforts to fight this gross injustice. We however still stand at a point indicative of stark regional inequalities in terms of disjointed national efforts to end child marriage coupled with varying levels of prevalence across the continent.During the 20 year Africa regional review of the Beijing Platform of Action, tackling harmful practices was one of the areas where the one we were deemed to lag behind. If as a continent we do not draw a line nor or apply concerted action to define child marriage as a form of violence against women that should be fought with every resource at our disposal numbers will grow, globally the total number of women married in childhood could increase to over 1.2 billion by 2050 if the current statistics are anything to go by. This is certainly not what we want, is it?
We are now finalizing the implementation of the MDGs, working to refine the post 2015 development agenda. Without serious and comprehensive coordinated national attention to ending child, early and forced marriage, the proposed goals on poverty, nutrition, health, education, gender equality, economic growth and reduction of inequality will not be achieved.
For all the girls given for marriage at a tender age, there is a price put on their head normally the price is direct monetary value, debt payment , tradeoff or just mere objectification. At this point, it would suffice to say that culture is not static. It is therefore our generations’ responsibility to fight this practice and ensure we inculcate among ourselves a culture that fights all social injustices for what they are and respect individual rights for all human beings including women and girls.
We have sound global and regional legislation frameworks on which to build and cultivate further political goodwill to bridge policy incoherence loopholes that hinder progress in various countries. The resolution on child marriage adopted during the general assembly in 2014 is one of the global laudable policies that should work to alleviate child marriage. In most countries where prevalence s high, customary laws most often sanction child marriage even when outlawed by national policy frameworks.
As we mark the 2015 Day of the African Child , Let’s aspire for all children of Africa to live and thrive in a continent free from violence, discrimination or any form of rights violation. The theme is to end child marriage and we should purpose to bring all on board to fight end child marriage.