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Girls Not Brides members launch the Uganda Alliance to End Child Marriage

In Uganda, 46% of girls are married before the age of 18, yet child marriage often goes unreported. Child rights advocates in the country are determined to do something about that and recently launched Girls Not Brides Uganda: the Alliance to End Early Marriage.

11 child rights organisations have formed Girls Not Brides Uganda in the belief that collective action is needed end to child marriage, a practice that robs thousands of girls of their human rights. Members of Girls Not Brides Uganda find that child marriage impedes nearly all aspects of their work, whether they provide children with access to quality education, empower families to become economically independent or work to improve women and girls’ health.

By establishing a nationwide partnership, Girls Not Brides Uganda members aim to start a dialogue at local, regional and national levels on ending early and forced marriage. They will also help to coordinate the work of organisations striving to end child marriage, and prompt increased involvement and funding from the Ugandan government and development partners.  Encouragingly, the launch of Girls Not Brides Uganda on 29 January was attended by the State Minister for Education and Sports.

Engaging the Ugandan government, parliamentarians and others to end child marriage

One of the group’s priorities, disclosed Moses Ntenga, Executive Director of member organisation Joy for Children, is to persuade the government to allocate funds and resources to child marriage prevention. Girls Not Brides Uganda members are also urging the government to include child marriage prevention in existing health, education and other development programmes, and are pushing for inter-ministerial discussions to ensure that child marriage is addressed across government ministries.

Girls Not Brides Uganda also plans to reach out to the Parliamentary Forum for Children, a cross-party platform that collectively lobbies for children’s rights, to encourage parliamentarians to hold the government accountable for its action, or lack thereof, on child marriage. Members will also reach out to the National Council for Children, a body that monitors policies on children’s rights, to bring gaps in the country’s laws, such as discrepancies relating to the minimum age of marriage, to the attention of the government.

Plans to involve cultural and traditional institutions are also in the works. Indeed, since they sanction customary marriages, traditional authorities can influence community attitudes towards child marriage. Girls Not Brides Uganda members will encourage kings and chiefs not to grant informal marriage certificates if the bride, or the groom, is underage.

Youth will play an equally important role by mobilising their peers, families and communities against child marriage. Girls Not Brides Uganda members hope to organise youth conferences and set up youth groups in schools to sustain a vibrant dialogue among younger generations.

Finally, members are also discussing the possibility of a caravan tour throughout Uganda’s 111 districts in order to spread awareness of child marriage among the most secluded communities.

“We need to inform and educate our political leaders”

While grassroots and civil society organisations have welcomed the initiative, government officials have had mixed reactions to the launch of the partnership. The Minister of State for Primary Education objected to Uganda’s ranking as country with the 14th highest rate of child marriage in the world and declared that 46% of girls married as children was an exaggerated figure.

“This type of comment shows that we urgently need to inform and educate our political leaders of the devastating scope and impact of early marriage in this country”, commented Moses Ntenga.