12 million girls get married every year before they clock 18. That is almost 1 girl becoming a victim of child marriage every 3 seconds — a kid forced to grow up too soon.
Child marriage represents an extreme violation of rights of children and a severe type of child abuse. It is a menace, which robs girls of their childhood, wellbeing, and potential. When a girl child is married too young, she is forced into physical & emotional relationships that she is not ready for, that she hasn’t chosen, and that she has little or no control over.
Along with other forms of gender-based violence and challenges that African girls are grappling with, child marriage isolates girls and puts them at a risk of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, in addition to the risks associated with early pregnancy as well as childbirth.
In spite of the several negative indices on child marriage in countries around the world, there has been some encouraging progress over the last 10 years. According to a UNICEF report, global rates of child marriage were declining in 2018 as 25 million child marriages were prevented over the last decade.
Despite those efforts, the scourge is still not over. It’s still going on daily in various countries across the globe, with Africa’s poor nations among the places the shameful practice is common. In this region, Zambia is among the countries that is fighting child marriages. Zambia’s President Edgar Chagwa Lungu is among the presidents in Africa spearheading the clampdown on early marriages.
Although there is still a long way to go to put the practice to an end for good, these are the 7 ways the world moved closer to ending child marriage in the last decade:
#1 More than 1,000 organizations are working together to sound the death knell on child marriage
The Girls Not Brides partnership, since 2011, has welcomed more members and has now become a global movement with more than 1,200 organizations around the world.
That is 1000s of organizations & rights activists working diligently to ensure a world, where child marriage is regarded as a taboo, where girls are free to exercise their rights and achieve their full potential.
The African Woman Foundation (TAWF) is also one of the several organizations across the globe promoting the girl child’s rights, urging society to treat African girls and women as equally as boys and men and not to place their value in sex and child bearing. Among other objectives, the foundation’s values are geared toward reducing the number of child brides on the continent.
#2 Governments raised the age of marriage
Within the last 10 years, a number of governments around the world have raised the minimum age of marriage.
In Africa, the government of Malawi officially banned child marriage. And the Supreme Court of Tanzania declared child marriage unconstitutional.
In the United Kingdom, a bill was proposed that raises the minimum age of marriage to 18 years without exceptions. Still in Europe, Norway signed a law that bans child marriage, setting a global example.
In Asia, Indonesia increased the minimum age, which girls can get married from 16 to 19.
In Latin America, some governments such as Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and El Salvador increased the minimum age of marriage to 18 without exceptions. Mexico now has 24 out of 33 states with updated legislation, which is in line with federal laws.
#3 Child marriage changed from a taboo issue to a major world topic
At the start of the last decade, child marriage was treated as a taboo subject, which people could only talk about embarrassingly with a hushed voice, which communities, governments, and world leaders around the world did not even discuss. However, 10 years later, it has become a prominent topic on the global agenda, as well as in the communities, in which the menace of child marriage is most common.
Child marriage got included in 2016 in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Under Goal 5, which is about achieving gender equality, Target 5.3 seeks to “eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilations” by the year 2030.
Consequently, 193 countries are dedicated to ending child marriage by 2030, a development that will make the lives of vulnerable girls & women better.
#4 Millions of dollars were provided for local efforts to crack down on child marriage
In 2018, top donors & philanthropists united to set up the Girls First Fund — an organization that supports grassroots efforts to make sure every girl is protected from child marriage and can attain their full potential.
They give support to local organizations, especially girl-, women- and youth-led initiatives, which help the most vulnerable girls to combat child marriage and promote girls’ rights.
#5 The first states in the United States declared child marriage illegal
In 2018, Delaware became the first state in America to ban child marriage, with New Jersey toeing the same path shortly thereafter. Last year, the U.S. Virgin Islands legislature unanimously voted to put a stop to child marriage.
#6 Senior Islamic clerics released a fatwa (verdict) against child marriage
Last year, a fatwa against child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) was issued by the Deputy Grand Imam of Al Azhar in Senegal capital Dakar, specifically stipulating that marriage for under 18 girls or boys is haram (forbidden).
Also, other religious leaders are at the frontline in the fight against child marriage in their communities. For instance, in Zambia and Malawi, chiefs, including Chief Chamuka, have created chiefdom by-laws making child marriage illegal. And in Ethiopia, a number of Orthodox Church leaders have announced they won’t preside over marriages, where either spouse is not up to 18.
#7 Women & girls successfully fought the law
In 2016, Rebeca Gyumi, 31, fought Tanzania’s legal system and was victorious in a landmark ruling that helped raise the age of child marriage for girls in her country from 14 to 18. She earned an award, which is the 2018 Human Rights Prize by the UN, recognizing her contribution to girls’ rights.
Shortly after that, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) made a third resolution on child, early & forced marriage, setting out the responsibilities of UN member states in putting an end to child marriage.
Rebecca is just among thousands of indefatigable girls rights activists that have made a difference for their peers, for their communities, for their countries.
Highlighted above are the 7 several ways the world has moved closer to ending child marriage in the last decade. In spite of the these positives, a lot still needs to be done by world’s governments, communities, NGOs, civil rights groups to ensure girls live free of the menace of child marriage.
We at The African woman Foundation (TAWF) believe the value of girl’s and women should never be in sex and child bearing, but in what they can achieve when educated, empowered and independent to realize their potential. TAWF believes marriage for girls is never sustainable.
Our campaign is ## GRADUATION FIRST, WEDDING LAST
Founder: The African Woman Foundation (TAWF)