Today, 11th October, 2013 is the International Day of the Girl Child and the West Africa Regional Office of World Vision International (WV WARO) takes this opportunity to call for integrated regional approaches to end the practice of early and forced marriages of girls which is prevalent in the region, especially in National Offices where the organization operates.
Statistics from research by international institutions including the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) rank Niger, Chad, Mali and Sierra Leone as the 1st, 2nd, 5th and 10th countries respectively in the world where child marriages are prevalent; with approximately 75%, 72%, 55% and 48% of girls marrying before age 18. In the other National Offices such as Ghana, statistics from Multiple Cluster Survey indicates that about 27% of women are either married or in unions before the age of 18.
Child marriage is a violation of the fundamental human rights of the girls who are often the victims, compromising their development and often resulting in early pregnancy and social isolation. Child brides have little or no education and poor vocational training, thus reinforcing the gendered nature of poverty. Most child marriages are also forced, where the consent of the child is not considered before the consummation of the union, therefore aggravating the violation of several international laws and protocols which governments in these countries have signed unto, especially Article 1 of the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) and Article 16 of the Convention of the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). While boys are also sometimes affected by child marriage, the issue affects and impacts girls in far larger numbers and with more intensity.
The consequences of the practice are as damaging as they are far-reaching. Primarily, child brides are pulled out of school and denied their rights to education. The denial of this basic right leads to several other consequences including domestic violence and poverty since research has clearly indicated that girls’ education, especially at the secondary level, is a powerful transformative force that leads to poverty reduction and ensures desired development outcomes. Additionally, the girls are exposed to frequent pregnancies and childbirth before they are physically mature and psychologically ready. The pregnancies are thus very risky; and are further complicated by other factors such as fistulas, hemorrhage and malnutrition. With little or no use of reproductive health services, the child brides face higher risks of maternal and pregnancy related deaths with such deaths being the lead cause of mortality in 15-19 year old girls (IPPF and UNICEF – ‘Ending Child Marriage – ‘A Guide for Global Policy Action’).
In view of these negative effects associated with the practice of child marriages, World Vision WARO calls on regional and continental bodies including ECOWAS and the AU to provide an integrated approach in resolving the problem. These should include a myriad of strategies such as the
- Immediate recognition of the practice of child marriage as a major child protection issue in the high risk category
- Measures should be put in place by these bodies to ensure that state parties ensure the implementation of ratified laws and policies
- We also urge governments to enact or revise and enforce appropriate legislation such as National Personal and Family Codes to increase the minimum age of marriage for girls to 18 and raise public awareness about child marriage as a violation of girls’ human rights
- Community mechanisms and formal institutions should be strengthened for effective implementation of existing laws with focus on mechanisms such as the mobilisation of the family, religious institutions and women’s groups to change harmful social norms, promote girls’ rights and create opportunities for them
- Finally, there should be public education to address the root causes underlying and perpetuating child marriages, including gender discrimination, low value of girls, poverty, religious and cultural justifications
As we join other countries and continents around the world to mark this year’s International Day of the Girl Child, let us as a region rise up with a sense of urgency to protect our girls from the menace of child marriages and secure their future by improving their access to good quality primary and secondary education as well as ensuring that gender gaps in education are eliminated.
(For further inquiries, contact the following – Selina Owusu, Regional Gender Adviser (Selina_Owusu@wvi.org))