Bringing an End to Child Marriage

by Developed Africa 28. November 2013 09:00

The African Union calls for an end to Child Marriage.

Child marriage is an ongoing problem in Africa, and one that greatly needs addressing. The African Union have recently called for an end to child marriage, and the call could not have come soon enough. Child marriage causes a great deal of suffering across the continent to millions of children married off to older spouses, often before they even hit puberty.

The effects on child marriage include premature pregnancy, violence, lack of education, and increased risk of health problems, especially for girls during child birth. And obviously whilst a great deal of the focus of this issue is upon girls, boys are also forced into marriage. It all needs to be stopped.

The Guardian recently reported this statistic from the UNFPA:

one in three girls in developing countries is married before the age of 18, and 50 million girls are at risk of being married before the age of 15 between now and 2020"

It is a startling statistic, and one that surely no one can argue against. Governments may have put measures and laws in place, but that is not enough. Real action needs to be taken to stop this. But not only that, we need to address, or at least attempt to address, the matter of why families agree to sell their children off to older spouses, it is almost always due to poverty and the great need for more income.

Reasons behind Child Marriage

Poverty plays a central role in perpetuating child marriage...Feeding, clothing, and educating girls is costly, and girls will eventually leave the household. A family's only way to recover its investment in a daughter may be to have her married in exchange for a dowry."

But this is not the only reason for marriage, it is often due to creating links between different villages and tribes, and also too protect chastity, preventing any sex out of wedlock. 

Making it a human rights issue

In the past, and often still, the issue of child marriage has not been treated as a human rights violation in its own right. Instead the subsequent issues caused by child marriage (e.g. premature pregnancy, poor health) become the human rights focus, when in fact the whole tradition should be seen as one. 

See this article from the Thomas Reuters Foundation on why it should be treated as a human rights issue.

How to tackle it

There are already many charities striving to end child marriage. CARE, Girls not Brides, UNFPA, UNICEF, Save the Children, to name but a few. But more needs to be done still, and the African Union's support is a step in the right direction. As the Health Consequences piece from Nour argues, it can't just be a case of bringing in new laws, everyone has to be involved in the social structural change in order to actually bring an end to this phenomenon. 

Ending child marriage requires the consent of all those involved, including fathers and religious, community, and tribal leaders. To break the cycle of poverty, programs are needed to educate and empower women"

As we can tell from this quote, it is a very male-orientated world, the consent of male figures, essentially, is what is required to end child marriage. That makes it extremely clear that in the long run, and now, empowerment of women is the key to ending this phenomenon. 

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