The African Union Commissioner for Social Affairs Dr Mustapha Sidiki Kaloko says Africa stands to lose out on its development goals if the spate of child marriage is not curbed or eliminated completely. He said the African Union’s vision of a prosperous, peaceful and integrated Africa is based on its people, and children and women are very important in this.
Dr Kaloko was speaking on the sidelines of the just-ended first African Girls Summit in Lusaka, Zambia. The summit had delegates from all parts of the continent and paid special attention to the issue of early and forced marriage.
According to Dr Kaloko, children and girls for that matter are very important to Africa’s long term development plan also known as Agenda 2063. He said ‘ for each of the ten-year assessment programme of the agenda, they will be around and even fifty years from now, they will be there asking how we messed up their pension arrangement.’
He provided additional justification why the African Union is intensifying the CAMPAIGN TO END CHILD MARRIAGE when he stated that if Africa is to harness the demographic dividends, children are key in the process. This is so because Africa has more than half of its population below age 35 and the continent must invest in them. For Dr Kaloko, ‘it is going to be a bad investment if our mothers of the future... are deprived at a tender age by marrying them off instead of sending them to school. We then keep them malnourished with very poor education and they produce children they cannot look after because they themselves are children.’
Pushing the development angle further, he asked all to look at the overall picture where we impair our own social economic development programme if necessary action is not taken now.
It is estimated that one out of every three girls in the world is a child bride and about fifteen million girls become child brides every year. Africa presents a scenario of two out of every five girls. Although the largest numbers of child brides are in countries of South Asia, the countries with the highest rates of child marriage are in Africa.
Statistics available from the END CHILD MARRIAGE IN AFRICA CALL FOR ACTION indicates that out of the 41 countries worldwide with prevalent rate of thirty percent or more, 30 are from Africa. Without further action, the number is likely to double by the year 2050. The Regional Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) Eastern and Southern Africa Region , describes this situation as unacceptable. Sounding a note of caution, she said Africa will have the largest number of child brides if action on the situation is not stepped up.
This view was shared by the Head of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka whose statement was read on her behalf at the closing ceremony. In her view, ‘child marriage robs all of the diverse talents, ideas and skills that girls and women offer when they are allowed to flourish’.
In a panel discussion focussing on MULTI-SECTORAL APPROACH AND IMPROVED COORDINATION IN ADDRESSING HARMFUL TRADITIONAL PRACTICES, the Technical Adviser on Gender and Coordinator of ENDING CHILD MARRIAGE Initiative at the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, Dinah Adiko stressed on the need to strengthen partnerships on all fronts and actively include young people in the campaign. Ghana has actively shared in the campaign at the national level and hopes to step up action to reduce the practice to the barest minimum if not eliminate it altogether. The Children’s Act 560 of 1998 and other laws forbid the marrying and betrothal of a person below 18 years.
Contrary to the widely-held view that some religions promote the practice, religious and traditional leaders present said that they were not in favour of early marriage and pledged to support the effort to halt the practice.
In her closing remarks, the Minister of Gender of Zambia, Professor Nkandu Luo appealed to all participating countries and supporting partners to revitalize their efforts to end child marriage. She said instead of seeing the high incidence as a challenge, the summit offers an opportunity to move forward the agenda.
Significantly, Zambia’s Gender Bill in Parliament was passed during the summit.