To mark the Day of the African Child, 16 June 2015, Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage is calling for renewed action to end child marriage across Africa.
The theme chosen by the African Union to commemorate Day of the African Child 2015 is “25 Years after the Adoption of the African Children’s Charter: Accelerating our Collective Efforts to End Child Marriage in Africa”.
Once a taboo issue, child marriage has finally been recognized by the African Union and many African governments. In addition to a regional campaign to end child marriage and the increasing number of national initiatives, more African leaders are committing to end the practice. It is now time for them to walk the talk and translate their declarations into actions.
“Africa has made great progress in its efforts to end child marriage, and we applaud the African Union and government leaders who have shown their commitment to this cause. However, if we do not turn these commitments into sustained action, the number of child brides in sub-Saharan Africa will double by 2050.” said Girls Not Brides Executive Director, Lakshmi Sundaram.
Girls Not Brides is calling on all African governments to develop and implement national strategies and action plans that are comprehensive and well-resourced. These should include initiatives to empower girls, mobilise families and communities as agents of change, provide adequate services (particularly health, education and justice services), and provide a legal framework that protects girls from marriage and its negative consequences. They should also work closely with civil society and other actors to protect all girls at risk and support married girls.
Child marriage: jeopardizing Africa’s future
Child marriage is still a reality for millions of girls across Africa. The African continent is home to 15 out of the 20 countries with the world’s highest rates of child marriage. Worldwide, approximately 15 million girls every year are married before they reach the age of 18. That is the equivalent of the entire population of Zimbabwe or Mali.
Child marriage jeopardizes efforts to improve maternal and infant health and has devastating consequences for the girl, her family, and her future children. Child brides face higher risk of death and injury in pregnancy and childbirth, with girls under 15 being five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s. Their children are at risk too: when a mother is under 20 her baby is less likely live beyond its first birthday.
“I was only 15 when I had my first child and was nearly forced into getting married. I stood my ground and said no, and I went back to school” said Isatou Jeng, Project Officer at The Girls’ Agenda, a Girls Not Brides member based in The Gambia. “I was able to take control of my own fate, and now I work to create an Africa where all girls can do the same”.
There is a perception that the impact of child marriage is limited, but that is not the case. This practice curtails Africa’s development and economic prosperity by denying millions of girls the education and opportunities that would have empowered them to lift themselves and their families out of poverty. Over 60% of child brides in developing countries have received no formal education. The persistence of child marriage has also hindered Africa’s efforts to achieve six of the eight Millennium Development Goals.
Through effective partnership, Africa can lead the way to global change
Given the scale and complexity of child marriage, this practice cannot be ended by politicians alone. All actors, from lawmakers and community leaders, to the media and civil society actors and the girls themselves, have a role to play in making child marriage history.
Through the power of partnership, Girls Not Brides brings together members working in sectors as varied as health, education, poverty alleviation, human rights and humanitarian response in Africa and beyond. Members are developing innovative and effective programmes to prevent child marriage and mitigate its effects on child brides.
Françoise Kpeglo Moudouthe, Head of Africa Engagement for Girls Not Brides, said: “What happens in Africa matters to the rest of the globe. Our continent can become a model for other regions on how to end child marriage in a generation. But we can only lead the way and fulfill our responsibility for the welfare of our children by working together, in partnership with governments, civil society, community and religious leaders, families, and with the children themselves.”
To emphasize the urgent need for immediate action to end child marriage in Africa, Girls Not Brides will be encouraging supporters to endorse its call to action by tweeting #EndChildMarriageNOW!
Girls Not Brides is a global partnership of more than 470 civil society organizations from over 70 countries working to address child marriage. Members are based throughout Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Europe and the Americas and are united by a commitment to end child marriage and enable girls to fulfill their potential.
The Day of the African Child is marked on 16 June each year to honor the memory of the school children killed in 1976 during a demonstration in Soweto, South Africa.
Cover Photo caption: A recent report by Aljazeera on child marriage in Ethiopia revealed girls as young as five are married off