Every two seconds a girl is obliged to get married in the world, of those, many are in Africa, a continent that within three decades will have around 310 million married minors.
Deisy Francis Mexidor
The slowness of the fight against social evil and population growth are the main causes of the increase in child marriage in Africa, unlike the rest of the planet.
Estimates note that the number of girls in the region will rise from 275 million at the present time, to 465 million in 2050; as the statistics of the United Nations Organisation confirms when tackling the terrifying reality.
For this reason, the African Union (AU) has been the leader of a continental campaign to eradicate the problem and in turn implement an action plan for governments with the aim of reducing the, until now, unstoppable rates.
The organisation, among other aspects, asked to ease access to quality education and reproductive health services; the strengthening and application of laws and policies that protect the rights of girls, such as the prohibition of matrimony until 18 years of age. A report from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) presented in 2015, warned that by continuing at the same rate, Africa will overcome South Asia as the region with the greatest number of women between 20 and 24 years who were married as children.
The statistics show that African countries make up 17 of the 20 with the highest rates on a global level.
For example, 76% of girls in Niger and nearly 70% of those in the Central African Republic and Chad are married before they reach 18 years old.
The president of Zambia, Edgar Lungu and his counterparts in Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, and Malawi, Peter Mutharika, expressed their agreement to support the efforts to put an end to child marriage in Africa in 2030.
A problem in figures
Just in 2016, Malawi joined with Gambia and Tanzania to prohibit child marriage before the age of 18 and those who infringe this are committing a crime punishable by five years in prison and a fine of around 143 dollars.
The former Gambian president, Yahya Jammeh, outlawed the practice that is now punished by 20 years in prison, at the same time as in Tanzania, a court declared sections 13 and 17 of the Marriage Law as unconstitutional, which made it possible for girls to get married at the age of 15 with their parents’ permission and at 14 with the permission of a court.
Similarly, the Parliament of Chad recently adopted a reform of its penal code that raises the legal age of marriage from 16 to 18 years.
Zimbabwe has still not created laws to criminalise child marriage. Some figures from specialist institutions and international bodies reveal that, for example, in Senegal only 18% of women use methods of contraception.
Meanwhile in Mali, according to the “Family Code” in force since 2011, women should be obedient to their spouses; whilst Niger reflects that the average age of marriage is 15.8 years old.
On the other hand, in Malawi, four of every five married girls did not finish primary education, and in Mozambique, emotional, physical and sexual violence are factors in why many girls leave school and end up married.
In Zambia, 31% of women between 20 and 24 years were married at 18 and in Tanzania, this rises to 61%.
According to the Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Anthony Lake, “each child bride is an individual tragedy” and therefore “an increase in their number is intolerable”.
By being forced to marry, they are being denied, especially the girls, their dignity and the opportunity to make decisions that are essential in their lives.
Furthermore, they have less chance to finish their studies and more possibilities to be victims of violence and to contract HIV, to which can be added that their children run a greater risk of low weight and mortality, whether at birth or shortly after.
According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), more than 140 million girls will get married before 2020 and if the rate of this phenomenon persists, 14,200,000 girls per year, or 39,000 per day, will get married at an early age.
Of these 140 million, at least 50 million will not have reached 15 years old. (PL)
(Translated by Donna Davison. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org) – Photos: Pixabay