The Day of the African Child (DAC) is celebrated every year on June 16 and is a time for the world to reflect on the progress made towards children’s rights, as well as they barriers they continue to face.
As we celebrate DAC 2021 in line with this year’s theme on accelerating Agenda 2040 for an Africa fit for children, it is important to focus on the vital efforts of communities and child rights activists working to advance the rights of girls on the continent.
Child marriage is a global practice and a manifestation of deeply rooted gender inequalities that impact the development, well-being and life options of girls, their families and communities at large.
African progress over the last decade
It’s been almost a decade at Girls Not Brides of building a partnership of organisations, movements and networks working together to address child marriage across the world. Our member organisations and partners work to prevent child marriage and ensure that girls and young women have a better chance of choosing what their futures could and should be.
Over the past 10 years, we have seen significant progress to end child marriage globally, including in Africa. In 2014, the African Union (AU) commissioned a campaign to end child, early and forced marriage in one generation. This campaign opened space for a conversation on child marriage among African leaders, resulting in the adoption of an African Common Position on Child marriage. The campaign also succeeded in putting child marriage on the development agenda of many AU member states, most of which had previously not developed a national response to child marriage.
In June 2016, the Southern African Development Community Parliamentary Forum (SADC-PF) adopted the first ever Model Law on eradicating child marriage and protecting already-married children.
More needs to happen to end child marriage in Africa
At the national level, many countries like Malawi have taken steps to pass laws, policies and frameworks that outlaw harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and child marriage.
Despite such changes, child marriage rates across the region remain high, and much more needs to be done to accelerate the progress already seen. Child marriage, FGM/C and poor or unequal access to opportunities for growth and development continue to violate girls’ human rights across the region. In Africa 34% of girls are married before they reach the age of 18. Last year, 100 million girls were projected to marry by 2030 before COVID-19. As a result of the pandemic, an additional 10 million girls are expected to marry between now and 2030.
It is important to know that no single approach can end child marriage. Change needs to happen at the local level for girls, but vitally supported by national, regional, and global efforts too.
“If we coordinate among ourselves across sectors and at different levels, and if we work together, we can end child marriage.”Nerida Nthamburi, Head of Africa Engagement, Girls Not Brides
Approaches to ending child marriage in Africa
At Girls Not Brides, our members have adopted four key approaches to ending child marriage across Africa:
- Empowering girls. Our members prioritise interventions that ensure that both girls at-risk of child marriage and married girls are equipped with the skills, knowledge and networks to become empowered agents of change in their own lives.
- Changing family and community perceptions. Our members are at the forefront of awareness raising on the harmful consequences of child marriage, and reducing acceptance among those who make the decision to marry off girls as children.
- Providing services for girls across sectors. For example, making sure that girls can access youth and girl-friendly health services and get a quality education. Check out more about what our members are doing in Angola.
- Ensuring there are robust legal and policy frameworks that create an enabling environment for girls and women. Read more about our contribution to the development of the SADC Model Law on Ending Child Marriage.
“We can only move forward in achieving a gender equal future if we ensure a more inclusive COVID-19 recovery response for girls and women.”Nerida Nthamburi, Head of Africa Engagement, Girls Not Brides
COVID-19’s impact now also means thinking nationally about the unique challenges that girls face in this pandemic – and how government responses can ensure that girls continue to access school, personal support, and sexual and reproductive health services.
In the rousing words of one of our African elders and statesman, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu: “I am confident that we can end child marriage in one generation but we must work together.”
In the time it has taken to read this article 47 girls under the age of 18 have been married
Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18
That is 23 girls every minute
Nearly 1 every 3 seconds