‘End child marriages now’: Plan International
CHILD marriage is a serious violation of human rights, denying children their childhood, and governments across Africa must act now to end this practice, Plan International has said.
Child rights organisation, Plan International, has called for governments to ensure national legislation is enforced and in line with international human rights standards and that the minimum age of marriage is 18 for girls and boys, regardless of parental consent.
Heads of governments from across Africa, along with a host of non-governmental organisations, are gathering in Lusaka, Zambia, for the African Union’s (AU) First African Girls’ Summit on Ending Child Marriage in Africa from yesterday to today.
The prevalence of child marriage across the African continent is high, and a according to the United Nations, seven of 10 countries with the highest rates of child marriages are in Africa.
In sub-Saharan Africa, 37 percent of young women aged 20-24 were married by their 18th birthday. Moreover, it is thought that an estimated 70 million girls in sub-Saharan Africa are at risk of being married by 2030.
Plan International Zimbabwe’s country director, Lennart Reinius, said: “In light of these staggering numbers, the AU meeting is more significant than ever. Child marriage is robbing children of their childhood and their right to an education. This can lead to devastating effects on their wellbeing, such as childbirth before their bodies are ready.
“Education plays a critical role in delaying girls’ age of marriage. It gives girls more choices and opportunities and enables them to develop their full potential. The meeting in Zambia is a bold, inspiring step to address a major issue. However, it will take more than a meeting to combat early child marriage. It will require sustained support and collaboration from governments, NGOs and communities. After all, everyone has the right to decide if, when and who they want to marry.”
To combat child marriage, African governments must ensure girls have access to information on sexual and reproductive health, as well as services to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
Education is also critical. Research shows that girls with no education care three times more likely to marry by the age of 18 than those with a secondary or higher education.
Work must continue at a community level too. Plan International has worked in partnership with community-based organisations and regional traditional leaders for many years. This work has been critical in creating platforms for community leaders to discuss and exert pressure to eliminate early child marriage in their communities across Southern Africa.
Through its more than 18 programmes, focused on ending child marriage in Zimbabwe, the debate has been taking place at local, national and regional levels, while Plan International’s work in Zimbabwe has focused on transforming the way communities think about child marriage.
It is significant – and timely – that the AU has decided to focus on early child marriage across the continent and it’s crucial that all national governments now follow its lead.
Follow us on Twitter on @FingazLive and on Facebook – The Financial Gazette