“Child marriage generates norms that are extremely difficult to exterminate”
-Nkosazani Dlamini Zuma, AU commissioner Chairperson
Child marriage, an ongoing practice that is carried through custom laws that contradict statutes of society.
In Eritrea, the country’s civil code Article 581 and 329 state that marriageability age is at the age of 18 years. However, customary laws determine marriageability age at 15, while unwritten laws determined ages according to physical maturity, community elders, cultural ceremonies as well as participation in economic activities. Depending on each culture and ethnicity within Eritrea however, there are no specific states of minimum age for marriage.
The duality in such laws result in loopholes where child marriage thrives, causing young girls to drop out of school and face a life predetermined into a loss of opportunities. Claiming the lives and development of Africa’s future, Eritrea’s Ministry of Health, Ministry of Labour and Human Welfare, Ministry of education, of justice, the National Union of Eritrean Women as well as a plethora of other like-minded partners adopted the AU campaign to end child marriage, making Eritrea the twelve nation to adopt the AU campaign in Africa.
According to Eritrean Population Health Survey 2010 (EPHS) child marriage rates have declined from 30% in 2005 to 26% in 2014, before the inception of the continental campaign. The EPHS however, notes that: of women between 20-24 years 13% were married by 15 years of age and 41% by the time they turned 18 (2010).
The Campaign, initially launched in Addis Ababa two years ago, ensues the advocacy of legal policy actions in the promotion and protection of rights of children. While the campaign is in Eritrea is at its early stage, the country has a field history of local and international organisations realizing the rights of children, with particular focus on the girl child. Minister of health Dr. Amina Nurhusen states that the state has used a multi-stakeholder approach: using religious leaders, local communities and government ministries in implementing awareness programs that teach the negative effects of child marriage; particularly how it stunts the holistic development of a community. In turn these have reduced maternal and child mortality and prevented child marriages in the country.
Through the campaign, dialogue and sensitization needs to continue with various cultural, religious and political leaders creating a psychological change of mindset, onto the freedom and willingness of children, particularly the girl-child.