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Child marriage still a bone of contention in some African countries

01.08.2019
Article from AFRIC Editorial
According to the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF), child marriage is the marriage of a girl or boy before the age of 18. It refers to formal marriages and informal unions where children under the age of 18 live with a partner as if they were married. Child marriage is also considered as a major violation to the rights of children and also a major cause of violence (especially domestic violence) against children.

Child marriage is a global problem, but Africa (sub Saharan) has the highest records of child marriages; 41% of girls are married as children. Here, 4 out of every 10 women are married before the age of 18. The records of child marriages in sub-Saharan Africa are 10% higher than in any other part of the world. The highest rates of child marriages are recorded in the western part of Africa. According to the State of the World’s Children report by UNICEF, Niger tops the list of child marriages in Africa with 76%, followed by Central African Republic with 68%, Chad with 67%, followed by Mali, South Sudan and Burkina Faso with 52%, and Guinea with 51%, just to name a few.

The rate of child marriages varies in other parts of the globe; with 30% in South Asia, 25% in Latin America and the Caribbean, 17% in the Middle East and North Africa, and 11% in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

Why child marriage rates are skyrocketing in sub-Saharan Africa

Despite the fact that many African countries are trying to make life better for their young citizens by increasing the legal age of consent, many local communities continue to practice and encourage child marriages. This is usually fuelled by the following factors.

  • Poverty : Poverty is one of the major factors driving child marriages. Many African families are usually very large, making it really difficult for the family head to cater for them (this population usually depend on one person for their daily bread), especially where agriculture is not productive. In this light, some people marry off their children to be able to collect a dowry and also to reduce the number of mouths to feed.
  • Protecting the family honour : Marrying off a daughter as a virgin is the pride of many parents in some rural settings in Africa. One of the best guarantees for this honour is to give their children out into marriage at very tender ages. In the case where a girl child gets pregnant out of wedlock, her family marries her off as soon as possible before the pregnancy starts showing. They either force the author of the pregnancy to marry her or marry her off to an old man willing to take her and her unborn child in.

  • Settling debts : Africans are fond of borrowing money when they are fully aware they will not be able to pay back when the time comes. As such, many parents in remote areas put up their daughters as collateral, and in most cases, these children end up getting married to very old men at very tender ages so that their parents’ debts can be cancelled.
  • Maintaining and strengthening friendship bonds : In Africa, it said that a marriage is not just a union between a man and a woman, but the union of two large families. In this light, marriage is seen as the best option to cement friendships and business ties. To fulfil this purpose, most parents give out their children into marriage before they reach 18 to ensure that they do not get interested in someone else.

Consequences of child marriages

  • Loss of childhood and future : Many little girls who marry as early as 10 are deprived of the opportunity to be a child. Some children are even betrothed before they are born, and such kids are sent to live with her “husband” as soon as they can walk and talk properly.

Child brides are also deprived of the opportunity to have an education because most of them are forced to leave school early, others do not even have the opportunity to see the walls of a classroom. As such, they remain in a cycle of poverty because they cannot find jobs since they are uneducated, and cannot practice any form of handicraft because of the inability to learn.

  • Exposure to HIV and other STDs : Women who married as children are more likely to be infected with HIV and other STDs. This is because most of them marry elderly men who have more sexual experience and are usually polygamous.
  • Increase and maternal and infant mortality : Imagine a pregnant little girls whose reproductive system is not even fully developed. If matured women can have complications during pregnancy and childbirth then it will be worse for a girls as young as 14. Many of these children succumb to the weight of their pregnancy, and when they are able to carry it to term they and their babies die during childbirth
  • Exposure to domestic violence : Child marriages lead to more domestic violence than a marriage between two adults. Child brides are very inexperienced when it comes to managing a home and satisfying their husbands sexually. Men who are not patient enough to teach them end up violating them all the time and beating them up at the least mistake they make.

Why it is so difficult to end child marriages in Africa

The reasons why child marriages are still so popular in many African states are the same reasons why they exist in the first place. Poverty for example has been around for a long time and as long as it persists, child marriages will continue to happen because many people see it as an escape route. Niger, Central African Republic and South Sudan where the highest number of child marriages take place are among the poorest countries in Africa.

The laws and systems concerned with child marriages are not respected. The age of consent in most African states is 18, but there are hundreds of young boys and girls who marry every year before reaching 18. These laws seem to be implemented in urban areas and nobody cares about those who are cut off from the cities; where the child marriages happen.

There is not enough sensitization on the ills and dangers of child marriages. Governments, private entities and international organisations need to make the people understand that child marriages cannot benefit a family as much as education would. They have to go to the most affected areas so as to have a greater impact, rather than limiting their efforts to urban areas where people are already aware of the negative effects of child marriages.

It is important to set up rehabilitation centres for young boys and girls who are victims of child marriages, where they can receive adequate health care and why not an education that will help them.

These and many more are some of the things that governments and individuals can do to limit the rate of child marriages and also reduce the impact it has on children involved and the African continent as a whole.

Article from AFRIC editorial

Photo credit: google images/ illustration

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