"It is disheartening that 60% of girls in Nigeria get married before age 18.In my community in the south-eastern part of Nigeria, girls are still getting married at an early marriage either due to teenage pregnancy or because their parents are poor and see marriage as an alternative to the girl’s education.." - Onyeka Akunna
It is true that most African countries have enacted laws and some have even gone ahead to drive country-led initiative against this practice like Egypt, Ethiopia, Zambia, etc yet the practice still remains widespread. Child marriage is still happening most especially in the rural areas where girls are faced with lots of hardship. It is disheartening that 60% of girls in Nigeria get married before age 18.In my community in the south-eastern part of Nigeria, girls are still getting married at an early marriage either due to teenage pregnancy or because their parents are poor and see marriage as an alternative to the girl’s education while the northern part views child marriage on the basis of their culture.So the question is how can we ensure that the rights of African girls most especially those in rural areas are not infringed upon by forcing them to get married before their 18th birthday?
According to UNICEF, 720 million women alive today were married as children, as compared to 156 million men. Across the developing countries, one in three girls is married before the age of 18 and one in nine girls before age 15. This shows the high prevalence of child marriage in our world today. Child marriage is any form of marriage where one or both parties are under the age of 18. This usually occurs without free and full consent of both parties. Child marriage is one of the many obstacles that prevents the girl-child from fulfilling her potentials in life as it violates her rights to health, education, equality and non-discrimination and even her right to choose if, when and who to get married to. African countries are still battling with the issue of child marriage. Global data show that the prevalence of child marriage in West & Central Africa is 42% and 37% in Eastern &Southern Africa. This is a huge hindrance to development both at national and individual levels.
Recently, the Organization of African First Ladies on HIV/AIDS (OAFLA) held their 17th Ordinary General Assembly meeting in Kigali, Rwanda on the 17th and 18th July, 2016. During the meeting, there was a panel presentation on ending child marriage and ensuring girls’ rights. The panel consisted of the First Ladies of Mozambique, Chad, Niger, Gambia, Sudan, DRC and Uganda and some young people. The First Ladies shared what they are doing in their various countries towards ending child marriage and passionately made new commitments too. As a Continental Youth Advisory Board member and also working with an organization at the grassroots,I was privileged to be one of the young people that spoke on the panel. In my candid opinion, I feel we have made substantial progress in enacting laws to end child marriage, but where we should focus more now is on elaborate and massive public enlightenment and the enforcement of the laws against child marriage. This is what will make the man in the village not to give out his daughter in marriage before she is 18 years old. Therefore in a bid to protect the rights of the girl-child and end child marriage, I called on the First Ladies to intensify their efforts by committing to the following:
At the individual level:
• To personally drive initiatives targeted at the grassroots and centered on community enlightenment in partnership with the media on the laws against child marriage. Also engage national bodies responsible for community and social mobilization to spread the message of ending child marriage.
• To establish ‘End Child Marriage’ community-based initiatives working more with religious and community leaders, parents and appoint male and female community champions to drive the process of ending child marriage in their communities.
At the organizational level:
• To engage in high-powered advocacy to African countries who are yet to enact laws against child marriage to commit to this fight.
• To establish peer review mechanisms to track the overall progress of country led initiatives taken to end child marriage especially community-based projects.
• Recognize that young people have so much to bring to the table. Actively involve the young people especially young women in decision making platform.
In order to meet the targets of Agenda 2063 and also SDGs which include a target (5.3) to end child marriage, we need to make these commitments. This is one way to ensure an enabling environment for the girl-child to survive, thrive and fulfill her potentials in life.