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Cameroon launches African Union campaign to end child marriage

Over 100 local girls sing ‘We Are Girls, Not Brides’ anthem alongside the Minister for Women’s Development and the Family at the AU Campaign launch to End Child Marriage today in Cameroon. | Photo credit: Justina Kwachu

Today, Cameroon became the 16th country to launch the African Union campaign to end child marriage in Africa, ramping up its efforts to end a practice that affects 38% of girls in the country. The government were joined by UNFPA, UNICEF, Canadian High Commission, National Human Rights Commission, and other civil society organisations at the launch. The Minister for Women’s Development and the Family joined over 100 local girls in singing in a choir to celebrate the African Union campaign to end child marriage.

Siké Billé, Director of Girls Not Brides member organisation Association de Lutte Contre les Violences Faites aux Femmes (ALVF) in Cameroon, highlighted the positive impact the campaign launch will have:

“The issue of early and forced marriage has gradually been brought to the international attention.  Cameroon’s government grew to include a Minister of Women’s Empowerment and the Family, and a Minister of Basic Education. This demonstrated that Cameroon was starting to recognise the practice of early and forced marriages affecting the girls of our country.

Today, the launch of the African Union campaign in our country in 2016 is a victory for the activists that have been working towards ending this practice since 2000. It is also evidence that Cameroon is ready to report back to the African Union on progress made so far made in that regard.”

Concerning the sustainability of the campaign, Siké stressed the importance of awareness raising and implementation at the local level in order for the launch to be successful:

“Currently, the campaign is not well-known to the people, other than those living in Yaoundé, Cameroon’s political capital. For those of us living in the provinces, the information doesn’t reach us at that level, at the micro level. It would be important for civil society and the government to go together to the 10 regions of the country and explain the campaign to the people.”

Justine Kwachu, Director of Women in Alternative Action in Cameroon also reacts to the launch of the campaign:

“This is an opportunity for members of Girls Not Brides in Cameroon to take activities of the campaign beyond the launch, and ensure that the national strategy is effective and implemented by all stakeholders.”

“I believe that our country level efforts to end child marriage in Africa have created a shift in mindsets, especially having to deal with an issue that had already eaten deep into the fabric of our society. Awareness raising from civil society organisations, including Girls Not Brides’ members, coupled with government commitments, and support from development partners, I am convinced that this practice will soon come to an end. Our children’s children will only learn about child marriage as cultural history and will never have to experience it themselves. When this happens we would have achieved our common goal of ensuring girls achieve their full potential.”

Ministers and sponsor representatives join local girls at the launch of the campaign. | Photo credit: Justine Kwachu

Girls Not Brides members join local girls at the launch of the campaign. | Photo credit: Justine Kwachu

Child marriage in Cameroon

  • With 38% of girls married before their 18th birthday, Cameroon has one of the highest child marriage rates in the world (UNICEF, State of the World’s Children, 2016).
  • 79% of women aged 20-24 with no education and 45% with primary education were married by 18.*
  • Up until July 2016, Cameroon’s legal age of marriage was 15 for girls with parental permission, and 18 for boys. In July 2016, a new law came into force which made it illegal for boys or girls to marry under the age of 18.
  • Though the legal age for both girls and boys now stands at 18, the practice still continues in many regions.
  • More on child marriage in Cameroon.

How is Cameroon addressing child marriage?

  • As of July 2016 – The new penal code, under Section 356, makes forced marriage punishable by five to 10 years in prison and with a fine from 25,000 to 1,000,000 CFAF (roughly $50 to $2,000). However, for this requires effective implementation, as the legal approach alone is not sufficient. Educational and health services are integral to wholly ending the practice of child marriage.
  • The ‘Husband’s club’ was established in 2015 with support from United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), in order to sustain a positive male presence in communities.

About the AU Campaign to End Child Marriage

Launched in May 2014, the aims to speed up change across Africa by encouraging governments to develop strategies to raise awareness of child marriage and address the harmful impact it has.

Specifically, it aims to:

  • Identify the socio-economic impact of child marriage
  • Promote the effective implementation of AU legal and policy instruments and support policy action
  • Remove barriers and bottlenecks to law enforcement
  • Increase the capacity of non-state actors to undertake evidence-based policy advocacy

Originally planned to last for two years, the campaign has been extended to run until at least 2017. Sixteen countries – Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Ghana, Madagascar, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Sudan, The Gambia, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone – have launched the campaign so far, with more launches planned for later in the year and during 2017.

Read civil society’s recommendations for the future of the AU Campaign.

*UNFPA, State of the World Report 2016