An unprecedented movement is growing in Benin. For the past year, hundreds of young people have been taking to the streets in Cotonou, mobilising in their communities and calling on everyone to play their part in ending child marriage. Their message is simple: zero tolerance.
Last year, more than 200 young people marched for an end to violence against children, including child marriage. Once again youth are seizing Day of the African Child - celebrated on 16 June every year - to speak up against child marriage. And this year, their call to action coincides with an exciting development: Benin launching the African Union campaign to end child marriage.
Child marriage in Benin
Child marriage is widespread in Benin. According to a recent study by UNICEF and the Ministry of Social Affairs, 32% of girls are married before the age of 18 – that’s 3 out of 10 girls.
There are two main drivers of child marriage in Benin. On one hand, poverty often forces parents to use the marriage of their daughter as a way out of financial difficulties. On the other hand, strong social and religious traditions prescribe marriage as soon as a girl gets her first period.
A movement for young people, by young people
The movement to end child marriage in Benin took off a year ago. Youth organisations gathered on 16 June 2016 to create “Plateforme Synergie d’Action des Organisations de Jeunes de la Société Civile”. The platform of youth organisations aimed at supporting the government’s campaign “Zero Tolerance” to violence against children.
In collaboration with the government and UNICEF, the platform has made great strides in a short amount of time. Through online consultations, dialogues with traditional and religious leaders, TV debates and radio broadcasts, the social campaign has been in full swing.
One highlight has been the creation by eight young musicians of a song denouncing child marriage. Produced in several local languages, the song raises awareness of the consequences of child marriage and other forms of violence against children in Benin.
The campaign is a truly cross-media platform meant to “challenge the beliefs and practices around child marriage, and replace the culture of silence with a culture of zero tolerance”, explains Sabine Michiels, Head of Communication for Development at UNICEF Benin.
Renewed commitment to end child marriage in Benin
Today’s launch of the African Union campaign symbolizes Benin’s continued commitment to end child marriage. An effort supported at the highest level by the First Lady, Claudine Talon, and the Minister of Labor, Civil Service and Social Affairs, Adidjatou Mathys.
The campaign puts child protection front and centre of the public debate. Sabine Michiels explains:
“The campaign aims to break the culture of silence, launch a social dialogue on the trivialisation of sexual abuse and abuse of children, including child marriage, and contribute to creating a more conducive environment for children’s wellbeing”.
Young people’s call to action
For over a year, young people have been working with the government to prepare the campaign launch. A fruitful collaboration that Jonas Kindafodji, Platform Coordinator and Young Ambassador for Adolescent Reproductive Health, wishes to continue.
“We want the government to give even more importance to the situation of children in Benin. We want child marriage, which destroys the dreams and happiness of adolescent girls, to be debated at the Council of Ministers and among the judicial police.”
The movement that’s built up in just one short year is an exciting and diverse one. But the campaign is just beginning! We hope that young people will continue working hand in hand with the government to turn their campaign promise into a reality: no child marriages in Benin.
This story relates to Goal A "Governments" of Girls Not Brides' 2017-2020 strategy. The goal is about ensuring governments take action to address child marriage in their countries, with the active participation of civil society and other stakeholders. Find out more.
This blog relates to Goal F "Partnerships" of Girls Not Brides' 2017-2020 strategy. The goal is about ensuring the Partnership continues to collaborate, diversify and strengthen. Find out more.
In the time it has taken to read this article 41 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
Girls Not Brides
Alexandra Newlands is Africa Engagement Officer at Girls Not Brides. Alexandra supports the implementation of Girls Not Brides’ strategic priorities in Africa and analyses policy and programmatic developments related to child marriage on the continent. She is based in London, UK.