Day of the African Child; Ending child Marriage
Children are to be guided, protected, educated, given the space to make mistakes and learn as it is the part of life of any other adult.
Childhood provides the environment for one to grow and dream for whatever they would want to accomplish as they become adults. In this phase of life, they have role models to look up to, either parents, older siblings, accomplished members of the society and so-forth.
A girl-child faces many obstructions growing up and this may hinder their development and realization of their dreams. Marriage! In some communities in Kenya, young girls are being married off to older men who have no concern for their individual needs. In these communities, girls are seen as wealth tools and although programs have been put in place to curb and stop child marriage, the match is still far from completing.
According to UNICEF data, an estimated 23% of girls are married off before 18 years of age, with the North Eastern and Coast regions recording the highest number of cases of child marriage.
Child marriage is seen as a violation of human rights preventing a girl from education, bonding with others of same age, maturity and freedom to choose life partners. The Marriage Act 2014 states a minimum age of marriage for both men and women is 18 years regardless of customs.
The root problem is gender inequality and the belief that girls and women are inferior to boys and men. Child marriage has many causes including the most popular poverty, lack of education, cultural practices and insecurity.
Poverty contributes largely to marriage of young girls since some families see marrying off their young girls as one less person in the family to feed, clothe or shelter, in the meantime investing more in boy’s education.
Gender inequality has to a point dictated how girls should behave, dress and who she is allowed to see and marry because family names are meant to be protected at all costs. This is so because the girl will someday be married off to someone and the family honor has to be acknowledged and therefore to the parents, chastity and virginity is the most important.
Education is emphasized especially to the society members to raise awareness for them to understand the consequences of putting their children through such traditions and also for the girls to accept, learn and appreciate femininity. They also ought to be made to understand that there is much out in the world than just being a wife at a tender age, as they may see it normal from the trends in the family members.
These cultural practices are being carried out because they have been happening for generations, for example female genital mutilation marks the beginning of womanhood and therefore a girl is considered ready for marriage, for instance in southern Ethiopia.
Marrying girls below age 18 puts them at a death risk and illness especially when it comes to delivering newborns because body organs of a girl at this age have not matured fully.
Child marriage creates an effect on the next generations, which means parents need to allow their children grow in the current society and be done with, with the traditions of the past. Fighting child marriage would require parents, religious leaders, political leaders and the whole community at large working together to educating one another. Child marriage, sex among other abomination topics should be openly discussed for the awareness to succeed.
The laws enforced on such Acts should be adhered to and perpetuators together with facilitators punished accordingly and in public to make the issue sound and seem serious to all citizens.
Since launching of the End Child Marriage campaign by UNICEF Kenya in November 2017, many organizations from all spheres have come together to support through sparking online conversations on the importance of ending child marriage in Kenya.
Organizations in support of this campaign have invested in education to children about their rights, parents and their roles of protecting their children and boys in appreciating and valuing girls and women in the society.
Ending child marriage will be a step forward in realizing Sustainable Goal five, that is achieving gender equality even as Kenya joins other countries in marking the Day of the African Child 2018 on June 16. With the theme; Leave No Child Behind, all participating organizations have and will still be working to ensure that even children forced on marriages are not left behind in development. Some ways include getting parents and partners for the young girls who have been married off to enroll back in school.
The International Day of the African Child has been marked since 1991 after it was established by Organization of African Unity to honor those who participated in the Soweto Uprising in 1976. This day continues to raise awareness of the need to improve education provided to African children.
Source: Girls Not Brides article
Health Consequences of Child Marriage in Africa; Nawal M. Nour