Every year, 12 million girls around the world get married, adding to an estimated 650 million child brides, and in East and Southern Africa, 31 per cent of girls are married as children before they turn 18, signalling an unabated violation of girls’ human rights.
Child marriage compromises the health, education, and safety of girls. It often prevents them from achieving their full economic and social potential, and it places girls at increased risk of sexual violence, risky early pregnancies, obstetric fistula, and HIV. Some 95 out of every 1,000 girls give birth between 15 and 19, before their bodies are ready for safe childbirth, leading to death and injury for many young mothers. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals include a goal on gender equality, which has a target to end child marriage by 2030.
Derailing the Future of Girls
Despite new universal commitments to end child marriage around the world, it remains the toxic product of gender inequality and poverty. Being able to choose to get married later improves girls’ chances of gaining further education as well as protecting their sexual and reproductive health, as girls under the age of 16 years are more likely to experience complications when giving birth. Their marriages as children are seldom of their own choosing and instead, are imposed on them.
Anandita Philipose, Youth and Gender Specialist of the UNFPA East and Southern Africa Regional Office said, “While more than 25 million child marriages were prevented in the last decade globally, progress has been more uneven in East and Southern Africa, where high levels of gender inequality, the devastating socio-economic impact of COVID-19 and multiple humanitarian and climate crises are hampering the good work that has been done to end this harmful practice. To change this trajectory, we must accelerate our actions to end child marriage.”
Ending Child Marriage
On 11 and 12 October 2021, UNFPA and UNICEF will hold a virtual gathering to mark the 5th Anniversary of the UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme to End Child Marriage (GPECM) in the East and Southern Africa region.
The GPECM protects and promotes the rights of adolescent girls to prevent marriage and pregnancy, and addresses the underlying conditions that sustain child marriage. The programme empowered 7.9 million adolescent girls across 12 of the most high prevalence or high-burden countries in Africa and beyond in its first four years (2016‒2019). In the East and Southern Africa region, the programme has been implemented in Ethiopia, Mozambique, Uganda and Zambia.
The fifth year anniversary celebrations will showcase the extensive work undertaken in the region to end child marriage, empower adolescent girls and young women to fulfil their potential, make healthy decisions about their bodies, and provide them with the services and information they need. The virtual event will allow reflection on progress made and how to build on the successes to date, incorporating new and emerging issues to move the programme forward in the region.
Mona Aika, Child Protection Specialist of UNICEF East and Southern Africa Regional Office, said: “Ethiopia’s progress in the past decade is one of the strongest among countries in Eastern and Southern Africa. Levels have declined in the past three decades, with progress accelerating in the past 10 years. It is possible to reduce the rate of child marriage with a combination of proven interventions.”
High-level speakers at the event include the Vice President of Zambia, Her Excellency Mutale Nalumango, and the tireless child advocate Ms. Graça Machel. Other speakers include Boemo Sekgoma, SADC-PF Secretary-General, Mohamed Fall, UNICEF Regional Director for East and Southern Africa, Dr. Bannet Ndyanabangi, UNFPA Regional Director for East and Southern Africa, as well as government representatives, community and traditional leaders, academics, donors and young people who are championing the end of child marriage in the region. The event will be moderated by South African personality and gender activist Hlubi Mboya.