The backbone of marriage is mutual adult consent and agreement. It is an agreement between two adults on an emotional, physical and mental level. But, it is worrisome to learn that Africa has a high rate of child marriages.
It was terrific reading horrifying comments of Elina V., a 15-year-old girl who was forced to marry a 24-year-old man in Mangochi district of Malawi. How can the girl child grasp the concept of marriage and then apply emotional, physical, and mental awareness to the process? It is a sad reality in Africa that the basic human rights of the girl child are exploited in such a manner.
According to records, 54.0 percent of women in Sub-Saharan Africa have been married as children, with substantial differences between countries ranging from 16.5 percent to 81.7 percent. The prominent countries in child marriage are Niger (81.7%), Chad (77.9%), Guinea (72.8%), Mali (69.0%) and Nigeria (64.0%). These figures are worrisome because a record of 54% in sub-Saharan Africa alone represents half the female population being married off prematurely.
Early child marriages present a number of pressing issues that society should address: it has the effect of depriving girls of many of their rights, including the right to education. Girls are pressured into early marriages rather than being taught that their ambitions are valid, and thus, miss out on opportunities to pursue their dreams.
Despite being prohibited under the international law, child marriage is still rampant, leading to issues of defilement both emotionally and physically. It is a heinous act, and should never be tolerated. Also, child marriages act as a barrier to gender equality. Hence, it must be eradicated to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
The boy child is taught to dream and follow his goals, whereas the girl child is pressured into early marriage and so gets locked in a cycle of poverty. This practice leads to an increased maternal mortality rate as most of these girls are too young to successfully go through labour. Research has also shown that many HIV/AIDS cases still being recorded in Africa are as a result of these early marriages; young girls barely know about the danger of such infections and also lack knowledge on ways they can protect themselves from them.
Given how widespread this problem has become in Africa, there is a pressing need to put a stop to it. This can be accomplished by first sensitizing communities, particularly parents in making them aware of the consequences of early child marriages. Additionally, another deterrent would be imposing stiffer punishment on men who undertake to marry young girls. Another strategy to combat the problem is to reconsider African cultural practices that encourage and celebrate early child marriages. There is a high need for unison in voices to prevent the occurrence of these atrocities.
Though the problem of child marriages cannot be remedied overnight, a step in the right direction is all it takes. The rights of young girls should be taken seriously, and their voices should be heard. Exploitative tendencies must be overcome and girls must be given opportunities to break the glass ceiling.
Angela Halubobya is a writing fellow at African Liberty.