Child marriage is a traditional practice that in many places happens simply because it has happened for generations – and straying from tradition could mean exclusion from the community. But as Graça Machel, wife of Nelson Mandela, says, traditions are made by people – we can change them.
In many communities where child marriage is practised, girls are not valued as much as boys – they are seen as a burden. The challenge will be to change parents’ attitudes and emphasise that girls who avoid early marriage and stay in school will likely be able to make a greater contribution to their family and their community in the long term.
Where poverty is acute, giving a daughter in marriage allows parents to reduce family expenses by ensuring they have one less person to feed, clothe and educate. In communities where a dowry or ‘bride price’ is paid, it is often welcome income for poor families; in those where the bride’s family pay the groom a dowry, they often have to pay less money if the bride is young and uneducated.
Many parents marry off their daughters young because they feel it is in her best interest, often to ensure her safety in areas where girls are at high risk of physical or sexual assault.
Traditions are made by us - and we can decide to change them. We should be respectful but we must also have the courage to stop harmful practices that impoverish girls, women and their communities.