Ending child marriage: A call to action

Author: Mary Izobo
International Human Rights Lawyer and Gender Advocate

Introduction

The International Day of the Girl Child is commemorated globally every year on 11 October since 2012 to highlight the injustices girls face based on their gender, while advancing the fulfilment of their rights, development and wellbeing. The United Nations theme for  the International Day of the Girl Child 2020 is ‘My voice, our equal future.’ There is a specific emphasis on the girl child because there is a direct form of discrimination against girls who are often deprived of their fundamental human rights. Millions of girls from birth are discriminated against on the grounds of sex and gender. This year, as we commemorate the International Day of the Girl Child, it is important to bring to the world’s attention, child marriage which continues to be an unending anathema that serves as a challenge in the fulfilment and enjoyment of the rights and welfare of the girl child.

Child marriage is the marriage of a child before he or she turns 18 years of age. It is a global phenomenon that continues to obstruct the wellbeing of young boys and girls. Child marriage affects both boys and girls, but nine in ten children married off before they turn 18 years are girls. Every two seconds, a girl is married off, before she is physically, psychologically or emotionally developed enough to become a bride or mother. An estimated 650 million women and girls in the world today were married before they turned 18 years and one-third of these women and girls were married off before they turned 15 years. According to United Nations International Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF), out of the world’s population, 1.1 billion are girls and 22 million of them are married off before they attain adulthood.

Next to Asia, Africa has the highest prevalence of child marriage, a decadence deeply rooted in society and an atrocity that is a major impediment to regional development and prosperity. It is believed that ‘if current trends continue, almost half of the world’s child brides in 2050 will be African.’  The United Nations Child Rights Convention (CRC) which guarantees the rights of children, is the most ratified treaty in the world, ratified by 196 countries excluding the United States of America and Africa’s newest state – South Sudan. The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) which deals with peculiar human rights challenges affecting children in Africa has been ratified by 49 out of the 55 countries in Africa. The CRC and the ACRWC recognise non-discrimination, devotion to the best interests of the child, the specific needs and rights of the child, as well as respect for the views of the child. Even countries that have signed, ratified and domesticated the CRC, ACRWC and other international instruments on the promotion and protection of the rights of the child, fail to comply with the implementation of these instruments and policies because of gender-discriminatory norms, socio-cultural practices, tradition, custom and religion.

Gender discriminatory norms, for example, have marked a female child as inferior to a male child. The birth of a male child is celebrated with great splendor and ardor, while the birth of a female child is received with disappointment because she is seen as a burden when compared to her male counterpart. Be it education, health, basic services, protection, participation, inclusion, the girl child is always treated unequally. Unfortunately, girls are led to believe that their goal in life is to cook, clean, serve and please their husbands as well as bear children. This is inconceivable and unfathomable in the 21st century where we have strong female leaders who have made landmark strides in systems completely dominated by men like Ms Chimamanda Adichie, a prolific and award-winning author; President Sahle-Work Zewde of Ethiopia; Mrs Amina J Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations; Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Mrs Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala who is currently vying for the position of the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation and may very well become the first female leader of the institution in its 25 years of existence.

The effects of child marriage on the girl child

Child marriage affects the education of a girl child as she is forced to take care of her husband and/or children. Consequently, these girls are unable to go to school or continue their education, and their financial freedom becomes hindered. This leaves them in a constant state of abject poverty and perhaps raise a generation of women and girls that continue to live below the minimum wage.

Also, child brides are prone to domestic violence. The International Council of Research on Women (ICRW) contends that girls between the ages of 15 and 19 years old with little or no education are at a higher chance of being violated than older and educated women.

In addition, child brides suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. These girls are made to live with their husbands and in solitude away from their families and friends. Child brides are more prone to HIV/AIDS and STIs as they are unable to discuss contraceptives with their husbands. Child brides are also likely to suffer complications from early or teenage pregnancy, sometimes leading to death. Approximately 70 000 girls die each year due to complications from pregnancy and/or childbirth. These girls also suffer from miscarriage, obstetric fistula, and postpartum haemorrhaging.

Aspiration 6 of the African Union (AU) Agenda 2063 and Goal 5 of the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030 sets target on ending child marriages. However, child marriage continues to rob the girl child of her opportunity to grow, learn, be empowered and develop to her full potential as child marriage makes the girl child dependent trapping them in a perpetual cycle of poverty.

Conclusion

We must all come together to end child marriage. The birth of a female child must be celebrated with equal zeal as that of a male child. There must be community ownership and duty in eliminating child marriage. There must be sensitisation programmes that would create attitudinal shifts towards gender equality and the mainstreaming of the rights and wellbeing of the female child. We must continually launch national awareness campaign against child marriage by highlighting the dangers of child marriage on the child, family, society, nation and the world at large.

Girls need to be empowered through the provision of information on sexual and reproductive health, support networks, career guidance, role modelling and mentorship programmes. School curriculum needs to eliminate gender roles and education must be inclusive.

There has to be state accountability to implement laws, policies, schemes, constitutional and international commitments on gender equality as well as institutionalising gender-sensitive laws and programmes within the national systems.

Girls want a world where everyone has equal rights and opportunities; a world without patriarchy; a world where she can voice her opinions in her environment and be heard in decisions that affect her life; a world where she is not marginalised, stigmatised or victimised. Girls want to have access to equal opportunities to learn, grow and prosper as their male counterpart. In this world, she is equal and gender equality is the standard. We must end child marriage now to protect her rights and wellbeing and safeguard her future and the future of the world.

About the Author

Mary Izobo is a human rights lawyer with experience in the field of human rights, governance, and rule of law for development. She holds a Bachelor of Arts (BA Hons) in French Language from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria; Bachelor of Laws (LLB) from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, United Kingdom; Barrister at Law (BL) from the Nigerian Law School, Abuja, Nigeria; a Master of Laws (LLM) in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa from the University of Pretoria, South Africa; and a Master of Laws (LLM) in Rule of Law for Development from Loyola University Chicago, United States of America. She is currently a Doctor of Laws candidate with a focus on governance in Africa at the University of Pretoria, South Africa.


2 Comments on “Ending child marriage: A call to action”

  1. Nozenza Qakosha says:

    Who holds the ultimate responsibility of a girl child?
    Who should create this conducive environment for the girl child?
    They boy and the girl child, at some point don’t they grow weary with all this injustice done to them by their families? Can’t they choose a better way towards the future and pursue it? Because it’s like it’s a never ending cycle, that they endure generation after generation? Unless if the case is, people who have better opportunities leave behind all that injustice and choose to challenge it from afar distance. How else would a generation after generation continue to endure such an infliction?
    This indicates how fabricated family structures are and how trapped the minds are. It is truly sad and depressing. But something has to be done, children cannot be placed under such a heavy yoke by those who are mandated by God to take responsibility for them, and not in to oppress their rights to life and education, freedom of religion and of speech.
    Children are the highest form of responsibility to any State. I believe that it starts with a father and a mother. Society will continue to produce a generation that will grow as victims of circumstances for as long as parents don’t take the plight to challenge themselves against the norms and standards they have succumbed to by virtue of normalisation. Families should lead the fight against Child Abuse and Discrimination. Royal Authorities should support the cries made by the oppressed, they should encourage mobilisation and attend to the cries. Governments should seek not to defeat the ends of justice, the Law Bearers have laws that gives way to justice, they should be more compassionate and adjudicate fairly in all cases brought forward. Prosecutors persecutes the perpetrators, they are favoured to execute justice in righteousness, but if anyway they benefit to the unjust system each is left to cry to the God for the justice system of this world is failing.

    If girls are less celebrated at birth, unfortunately the parents are to be blamed for such an attitude and distorted perspective. For it all depends on how you teach the child, failure of parents to give equal attention to their own offspring does not condemn either of the child to seek the best for the other. This does not call for any item of responsibility to be enacted, it truly does not need a heavy pocket or a high seat to deliberate in it’s actual essence, it is an issue of the bedroom, the pillow talk between husband and wife, an issue of supper around the table, or around the fire place. This is the only sacred call and the only precious entitlement each pair should adhere to for the sake of producing a better generation of humans.
    Some children live constantly on the demands of society and have become uplifters, while at a time, they hold a low social class, have grown without parents, but have manage to survive because they believe in the possibilities of God’s love, guidance and power. They believe they are better and worth living a better life and work towards creating opportunities.
    Winnie Mandela made an outcry to the world and it listened.
    Women of the past, have marched to high seat to challenge the system and have thrived.
    The daughters of one of the Clans in ancient Israel, marched forward to the elders of the family and made request to be included in the land allocation, they made a point that just because their father did not have boys does it mean that they are not worth being given a land piece? The elders went to ask (pray) God about the matter, they felt it was a hard issue hence the inquest to God. And God granted the request, and the daughters were included in the land allocations.
    Does the wives and the mothers do likewise? Has the Elders heeded? Has the Judge overruled in justice and righteousness? Has the Clergy man opened the house of the Lord for the weak to find refuge?
    The problem is the authority (in all aspects of society) who thinks they are advocating for the cause of God, the God, whose word said, “there’s neither a Jew nor Greek, nor Male and Female…” The land is the Lord’s and everything in it. No one should have Dominion over another human being. Man was given dominion over animals and the responsibility to work the ground not to be wicked.
    The fathers should execute justice in their own families and lead in righteousness; wives should stand up for the well upbringing of their children, and continue to pray for their children. I believe in God who holds all power to defend the cause of the weak.
    The boy and the girl child should hold such a view of courage; “though the fig tree produce no fruit, nor the flower blossom not, the joy of the Lord is my strength, I will run and not be weary, I will strive towards a goal to attain freedom”.

    Thank you for an informative article #MaryIzobo. May the grace of God abounds for you in your quest to freedom and Advocate of Children’s Rights.


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