Across Africa, 125 million girls and women alive today were married before their 18th birthday (UNICEF, 2018). Prevalence of child marriage varies across countries in the region, ranging from as low as 2% in Tunisia to as high as 76% in Niger. The good news is that commitment towards ending child marriage in Africa is growing. Our challenge is to sustain change and action, so we do not lose the momentum towards improving girls’ lives.
Considering that Africa has the largest youth population in the world, prevalence figures are concerning for girls at risk, and for a committed movement of activists, civil society, researchers, teachers, health professionals, donors and allies all working to address this pressing issue.
Despite the sometimes stark numbers, which represent the lives of real girls and young women, significant progress has been made by a vibrant and determined movement, working collectively to end the practice.
Today marks a day to celebrate children across the continent: Day of the African Child 2022 (DAC). This year’s theme focuses on the importance of “eliminating harmful practices affecting children” including “progress on policy and practice,” linking the potential of young people in Africa with the urgent need to end child marriage as well as other connected practices like female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C).
DAC 2022 presents an opportunity for dialogue and acts as “a reminder to government agencies in charge of child rights protection to raise efforts aimed at ensuring the African child is given the environment [they need ] to grow in,” says Shaibu Awudu, Media and Communications Officer, from our member WUZDA in Ghana.
At Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage, we continue to work strategically and collaboratively with member organisations using context-specific approaches across the continent.
Girls Not Brides National Partnerships have played a key role to deliver success in many regions.
In West Africa, members have collaborated with partners in the education sector to make sure girls can access and stay in school as an effective way to delay marriage. Girls Not Brides Coalitions and National Partnerships in Niger and Burkina Faso are also working to ensure young people and women are leading conversations with the government to end child marriage and promote girls’ education. In Southern Africa, members have made strides in their advocacy work to revise laws that discriminate against the girl child.
Meanwhile in East Africa, members have focused on building momentum and deepening advocacy by supporting a growing movement of young people who work to end FGM/C and child marriage in their local communities.
According to the UN, 70% of the population in sub-Saharan Africa* are under 30 years old.
With so many young people across Africa facing a gamut of issues, from conflict to climate change to child marriage, it’s not only a good idea to meaningfully prioritise youth leadership; it’s essential to growth and development across the continent.
Children and young people don’t only need to grow up in safety, they also need to be equipped with the skills, knowledge and resources to advocate for their own rights. This is especially important in the wake of COVID-19 and its ongoing repercussions.
“The environment is changing and uncertain […we] need to prepare young people as soon and as fast as possible,” says Sengoma Hajara, Programs Director and Founder of Strengthening Hope and Resilience Empowerment (SHARE) in Uganda. Sengoma went on to say that young people need to “be able to achieve their full potential, […] imagine a life of possibility [and] build their resilience.”
In Mozambique, our National Partnership has continued to work with communities to raise awareness about the law against marriage under the age of 18, while in Zambia, the coalition is advocating for the enactment of the Children’s Code Bill to ensure that all children can benefit from comprehensive protection at all stages of their childhood and adolescence. In both Mozambique and Zambia, member organisations working on these initiatives recognise that while the law is an important foundation to ending child marriage, holistic, multi-sectoral approaches will end the practice in the long run, with community-led work at the centre.
In Niger, the Association des Jeunes Filles pour la Santé de la Reproduction et lutte contre le mariage des enfants is carrying out a digital campaign to amplify the need to address child marriage to mark DAC 2022. Kadiatou Adoulaye Idani, President of the organisation emphasises that it’s vital to advocate “all levels because it means that girls will remain a priority in development issues.”
Our work does not stop here. For our members working across Africa, and our secretariat team committed to engagement across the continent, every day is the Day of the African Child.
As we continue our pathway to ending child marriage, we remind ourselves of the power of collaboration, uplifting the voices and leadership of young people, and the impactful partnership that we have created together.
Because as the much-loved African proverb tells us: “if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together.”
To see more of Girls Not Brides member activity for Day of the African Child 2022, follow us on Twitter and post your support using #DAC2022 and #EndChildMarriage.
* Girls Not Brides generally avoids the term “sub-Saharan Africa” due to its racial and colonial connotations, and lack of specificity. We have used it here to reflect the available data and evidence, which refers to sub-Saharan Africa as a geographical region. For regional and country-level detail, see our Atlas.
In the time it has taken to read this article 56 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 2 seconds