Day of the African Child is commemorated every year on 16 June. It is envisaged by the African Union (AU) as “an opportunity to reflect on the lived realities of children in Africa” and to draw the attention of AU Member States and others to their responsibility to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights of the child.
The theme for Day of the African Child 2013 is “Eliminating Harmful Social and Cultural Practices affecting Children: Our Collective Responsibility”. The links between this year’s theme and our work is strong, as child marriage is deeply rooted in many communities’ traditions and social and cultural practices. Indeed, child marriage is one of the most widespread, devastating and yet neglected practices that result in harm to children.
Child marriage: a reality for girls across Africa
Child marriage is a reality for millions of children – predominantly girls – across Africa. The continent is home to 14 out of the 20 countries with the world’s highest rates of child marriage.
The impact of early marriage on girls is severe. Child brides are denied the opportunity to complete their education, significantly reducing their ability to earn an income and lift themselves and their children out of poverty. They are also put at greater risk of violence and sexual abuse; many child brides describe their sexual initiation as forced.
Child marriage also jeopardises our efforts to improve maternal and infant health across Africa. Child brides face higher risk of death and injury in pregnancy and childbirth, with girls under 15 being five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s. Their children are at risk too: when a mother is under 18, her baby is 60% more likely to die in its first year of life than a baby born to older mothers.
Our collective responsibility
The decision by the African Union to focus on ‘Our Collective Responsibility’ for Day of the African Child 2013 emphasises that we can only end child marriage and fulfil our responsibility for the welfare of our children by working together, in partnership with governments, civil society, community and religious leaders, families, and with the children themselves.
Girls Not Brides members across Africa will emphasise this message on the day, through meetings with ministers and government officials, community leaders, and others that play an influential role in the life of girls and their communities. They’ll be highlighting the issue of child marriage in the media and will carry out activities at community level too, such organising role-plays and prompting community dialogues on the impact of child marriage.
In the lead up to Day of the African Child, the Tanzania End Child Marriage Network will host a regional conference on child marriage in East Africa, from 12-13 June in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The conference will provide a platform for information sharing among organisations working on child marriage, skills building, discussion and insights on current developments globally and at the regional level, as well as sharing programme and policy interventions on child marriage. It will also explore options for strengthening collaboration, networking and strategy to support the needs of girls and young women affected by child marriage.
You too can take part!
You can support our efforts on Day of the African Child:
- Help adolescent girls avoid child marriage in Zambia
- Share our infographic about what child marriage means for girls
- Read and share the stories of girls who have taken a stand against child marriage
- Watch ‘Tall as the Baobab Tree’ at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in New York, a film about two sisters in Senegal determined to avoid early marriage
- Get informed: How important is minimum age of marriage legislation to end child marriage in Africa?
In the time it has taken to read this article 0 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