One out of four women marry before age 18 in Ghana and that is 27% of the population according to UNICEF, 2015.
Child marriage is the formal marriage or informal union before age 18. It is a violation of child’s human right. This menace affect boys but disproportionately, the most affected is girls. According to plan International 15 million girls marry before age 18 every year. This means one girl marries every 2 seconds.
This practice is founded on reasons that young brides are considered more obedient – ‘the catch them young’ mentality. Some men think that the older the girl, the higher the dowry therefore it is advantageous to marry them early. In addition to this negative assertions, some families believe that child marriage protect girls from sexual violence. Nevertheless, inequalities between boys and girls and the lack of the will to enforce the laws on children’s rights are major contributing factors.
However, the underlining factors to these societal menace is the lack of education and poverty though it can also be blamed on some religious believe and shear greed on the part of some families.
The issue of child marriage has become a global challenge with prevalence to some continents, according to Plan International; south Asia, West Africa 46% central Africa 41%, the Caribbean 29% and the rest of the world is between 18 to 11%. This menace is mostly prevalent in three regions in Ghana with alarming percentages. Upper East is 39.2%, western Region 36.7% and Upper East 36.3%.
Girls who are forced into child marriage face the consequences of dropping out of school as they cannot stand the discrimination from their peers who may also lack knowledge of the challenge she may be facing at that time of her life. Also, the demands of marriage responsibilities do not permit a child to manage between school and home management. Early parenting definitely forces a girl out of school.
Early marriage exposes the girl child to sexually related violence and abuse. The child who may lack knowledge of sex and its related issues. The older men turn to abuse the girls verbally and physically when they are unable to satisfy their sexual needs. Pregnancy at that tender age also expose the girls to health threat and even death
The approach to finding solution to this societal challenge must be holistic, involving all stakeholders, from government to civil societies and a individuals. It calls for especially women in higher societal positions to add a voice to the fight. No form of human right abuse should be tolerated.
The laws on child rights must be enforced to the fullest. Parents who give their children out in marriage before the constitutional age must be brought to book to deters others from following suit.
The government must implement policies and programs that will aleviate abject poverty that drive families to ‘selling’ their girl child into marriage to ease the burden of feeding and catering for the rest of the family. It is said that ignorance of the law is no excuse, yes but education is key and power to life. Parents and families must be educated and encouraged to practice family planning programs so that they can have just a few children they can cater for.
Women and for that matter the girl child is a blessing to the family first and the society. When she is given the opportunity through education and training, she intends becomes an educator and trainer herself, as Professor
Kwagyre Aggrey said, when you educate a man you educated an individual but when you educate a woman you educate a nation.
Children must be given the opportunity to live their childhood lives in full. They must grow and learn to face life at their own pace.
Let the child be child!
Let’s girls be girls!
Miss Vida Tetteh
CEO, Nobiyo Excellence Foundation