#ProtectTheGirlChild by Kevin Mofokeng
This is a day aimed at recognising girls’ rights and increasing awareness of the unique challenges they face such as forced marriages, denial of sexual reproductive health rights, lack of access to education and persuasive violence.
Child marriage is a challenge across Africa. It’s widespread in West and Central Africa, where 42% of women are married as children and East and Southern Africa where child marriage affects 37% of girls. Top 10 countries with highest number of child marriage in no particular order are; Chad, Mali, Nigeria, Guinea, Niger, Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Central Africa Republic, Mozambique and South Sudan.
The main reason why child marriages happens is because of a few factors; tradition; child marriage persists because it has happened for generations and straying from it could mean exclusion from the community. Poverty is also one cause of child marriage because parents tend to feel that giving off their daughter to marriage will increase income in their family through bride price. Gender inequalities also drive child marriage, girls are not valued as much as boys, and they are seen as a commodity.
Child marriage can have life-threatening health consequences for girls. Under pressure to become mothers soon after marriage, many child brides become pregnant before their bodies can safely carry or deliver children. Complications in pregnancy can put them at risk of injury, and even death, as girls who give birth under age 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than young women in their early 20s. Child brides are particularly vulnerable to injury in pregnancy or childbirth: 65% of all cases of obstetric fistula occur in girls under the age of 18.
Child marriage denies girls their right to education. Millions of child brides drop out of school to devote their time to house chores and child rearing – if they were in school in the first place. Over 60% of child brides in developing countries have had no formal education. In Malawi, nearly two thirds of women with no formal education were child brides compared to 5% of women who attended secondary school or higher levels of education. Child marriage puts girls at risk of sexual, physical and psychological violence throughout their lives. Girls who marry as children are more likely to be beaten or threatened by their husbands than girls who marry later and are more likely to describe their first sexual experience as forced. As minors, child brides are rarely able to assert their wishes, such as whether to use family planning methods or practice safe sexual relations. Married girls can be particularly vulnerable to HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Child marriage has negative implications for Africa’s economic prosperity and development. Because of child marriage, millions of girls miss the skills; knowledge and employment prospects that would enable them to lift their family out of poverty and contribute to their country’s economic development and prosperity. The persistence of child marriage has hindered Africa’s efforts to achieve six of the eight Millennium Development Goals (to eliminate extreme poverty, to achieve universal primary education, to promote gender equality, to reduce child mortality, to improve maternal health, and to combat HIV/AIDS).
International day of the girl child embraces a vision for the future, one that imagines a world, 15 years from now, where girls are educated and empowered, free from the burdens of forced marriage and violence and leading long healthy lives. This vision is absolutely essential to a more just and equitable world, not only because gender equality is inherently right but also because it is key to limiting the unsustainable population growth which threatens to undermine the entire SDG framework. Policymakers must recognise the threat this growth poses to the SDGs and prioritize girls’ empowerment, protecting sexual and reproductive health and rights and the provision of family planning services.