Growing into adulthood, my childhood is an adventure to always remember and at times smile over. Everyone loves to say a thing or two about growing up and it would be painful if the part of being a child was taken raptly from them. Marriage should be a union between two adults that decide to be together. Unfortunately, in this continent, Africa reserve has been the case. Child marriage has continued to be the normal culture and custom of some countries in the continent and no end is at sight yet. Child marriage robbed the future of the children that has to drop out of school to answer the call of marriage.
Millions of young girls in Africa are victims of child marriage, stealing their innocence, bringing a rapid end to their childhood and a sudden plunge into adulthood which condemns them to lives in poverty, ignorance and poor health. This malady cut short this youngsters’ professional and academic attainment. It saddens the heart that in most countries where this menace is prevalent, the girl-child’s family exchange their ward for a cow as the bride price. In one of the video viewed, a mother unremorsefully said: a cow is more important than a girl. So, to have more cows they marry off their girls. Very disappointing, this is the harsh realities of the African girl-child.
UNICEF reports that the pervasiveness of child marriage is decreasing globally, with the most progress seen in South Asia ; where child marriages has dropped. During the past decade, the proportion of young women who were married as children decreased by 5 per cent from 1 in 4 (25%) to approximately 1 in 5 (21%). Despite this drastic decline, 650 million girls and women alive were married before their 18th birthday; the child marriage has reduced globally, yet, no region is on track to meet the Sustainable Development Goal target. The total number of girls married in childhood stands at 12 million per year, and progress must be significantly accelerated in order to end the practice by 2030.
The causes of child marriage are common across the continent; parents marry off their girls due to poverty or out of fear for their safety. Parents force their daughters in order to get money. Tradition and the stigma of straying from tradition prolong child marriage in many communities. Although, the prevalence of child marriage in the continent has slowly reduced, however, it remains higher than the global average. According to forecast, the child population of Africa is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years, putting millions more girls at risk of child marriage if progress of eradication is not accelerated.
The girls get exposed to sex at an early stage; some are yet start menstruation before they are married off to men older to be their grandpa. They are just children, no idea about the changes in their body system when they are pregnant. Child marriage leads to most victims to suffer different diseases and hard labour; their pelvic is unprepared for labour. Child marriage is not only a violation of human rights; it is the evil of 21st century. In the bid to express displeasure towards this issue, UNICEF stated: Marriage before the age of 18 is a fundamental violation of human rights. Many factors interact to place a girl at risk of marriage, including poverty, the perception that marriage will provide ‘protection’, family honour, social norms, customary or religious laws that condone the practice, an adequate legislative framework and the state of a country’s civil registration system. Child marriage often compromises a girl’s development by resulting in early pregnancy and social isolation, interrupting her schooling, limiting her opportunities for career and vocational advancement and placing her at increased risk of domestic violence. These young ones end up being battered by the supposed husbands.
There have been various tactical agenda to strengthen national child protections system in the continent. In 2014, the African Union (AU) launched a campaign to end child marriage, it focuses on accelerating change across the continent by encouraging AU member states to develop strategies to raise awareness of and address the harmful impact of child marriage. In same year, the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) adopted a declaration urging AU member states to set the minimum age for marriage at 18 years for both boys and girls without exception and to develop and implement holistic strategies to end child marriage in the continent. Currently, most African countries have a minimum age for marriage. The need to end child marriage is also embedded in Agenda 2063, the AU’s 50-year vision for the development of the continent.
Despite all the programmes and policy enacted coupled with the support from some African leaders, the progress to end child marriage is still slow. However, some countries have shown integrity on keeping young girls out of this sheer wickedness. Ethiopia, a country once among the continent’s top five countries for child marriage has dropped. The government has plans to eradicate child marriage by 2025; the government of Ethiopia disburses more funds on education.
Kenya has an estimate of 23 per cent girls married before 18th birthday, child marriage rates vary across regions. The North Eastern and Coast regions have the highest prevalence rates, while the Central region and Nairobi have the lowest rates. The minimum age for marriage in the country is 18 years. An International female rights advocacy platform, Girls not Brides reported than many girls in rural parts of Kenya are often perceived by their families as either an economic burden or valued as capital for their exchange value in terms of goods, money and livestock. To justify these economic transactions, a combination of cultural, traditional and religious arguments are often employed.
In Ghana, 21 per cent of girls are married before the age of 18, but the rates is as high as 39 per cent in the northern part of the country. Child marriage in Uganda is often as a result of poverty, many parents marry off their daughters to secure financial stability. Importantly, the displaced population living in refugee camps often feel unable to protect their daughters from rape, so, they marry off their daughters.
More so, Zambia has one of the highest child marriages in the world with 31 per cent of women aged 20-24 years married before the age 18. This malaise is driven by traditional practices and beliefs and the low social status assigned to women and girls. However, South Africa has 6 per cent of girls married before the age of 18. The legal minimum age of marriage in the country is 18 years for boys and 15 years for girls. Also, in Rwanda, 7 per cent of girls are married before their 18th birthday. Over the last decade, the country has witnessed strong decline in child marriage rates bringing the prevalence below 10 per cent.
According to UNICEF, Nigeria has the largest number of child brides in Africa. The country has a prevalence of child marriage with figures as high as 44.1 per cent. The malady varies across regions, the North-central has 39 per cent, North-East 56.6 per cent, 67.6 per cent for North-West, South-East has 13.9 per cent, 21.5 per cent for South-South and 14.6 per cent for South-West, according to Multiple Indicators Cluster Survey (MICS). Nigeria lawmakers have been debating marriage customs for decades, the Federal 2003 Child Rights Act Mandates that both parties be at least 18 years to marry but most states in the country have not ratify the act. Poverty, poor educational attainment and strong social and religious traditions are drivers of child marriages in the country.
Child marriage has been an evil prevalence in the 21st century, the policies adopted must been enacted across all regions in the continents. The policies should move beyond paper work and become a reality; else, the continent will have the largest number and global share of child brides in the world by 2050. The Acts adopted to protect the girl and boy child to eradicate early marriages must be implemented in all regions and a strict follow up must be carried out. The Sustainable Development Goals 5.3.1 which enshrine a target to eliminate this practice by 2030 will only be a myth if actions are not taken now.
The time to act is NOW!
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Omolola Lipede (The Talking Pen) is a contributor to The African Progressive Economist and the opinions expressed here are her own. She is currently an Economics post graduate student at the University of Ibadan.