The theme for this year’s Day of the African Child, which was 25 Years after the Adoption of the African Children’s Charter: Accelerating our Collective Efforts to End Child Marriage in Africa, underscores the importance of combined efforts towards ending child marriage.
This theme is particularly important to Malawi, which currently needs urgent and concrete actions, not mere promises and boardroom decisions, to halt the crisis of child marriage, which has caused havoc in many communities. We need individuals, parents, the media, the judiciary, police, community leaders, traditional, religious leaders, youths, survivors of child marriage and other relevant stakeholders to join the fight.
Statistically, it is estimated that about 50 percent of girls in Malawi marry before the age of 18, with roughly nine percent tragically marrying around the age of 13. These shocking figures represent a range of violations that continue to haunt adolescent girls throughout generations, creating miseries for our communities and Malawi as a whole.
There is a great deal of evidence in documentation which shows that child marriage condemns innocent girls to lives plagued by extreme poverty, recurring gender-based violence (GBV), vulnerability to the HIV and Aids and poor health. Girls who come from impoverished rural families are most vulnerable due to the role that culture plays in compelling guardians to force their children into early marriage.
The primary danger of early pregnancies among poor adolescent girls is prolonged or obstructed labour, which can result in complications such as obstetric fistulas, pregnancy-induced hypertension and even death for both the mother and the infant.
In Malawi, child brides between the ages of 10 and 14 are five times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than women aged 20 to 24.
However, as child marriage continue to ravage Malawi girls and rear its ugly face on its social and economic development, there is a need to invest in girls’ education and improve their life skills in order to prepare them to face life and deal with its associated challenges such as child marriage.
The crisis of child marriage is deeply-rooted in culture, which creates the impression that it is normal to marry off young girls. A mere onset of first menstruation among young girls is perceived to be an indicator of womanhood and passport into marriage. Parents tend to force their children into early marriage because they passed through it as they regard it as normal, hence their careless attitude towards the fight against child marriage.
However, investing in girls’ education and enhancing their skills means reducing vulnerability, poverty and achieve a more prosperous nation. That is to say, if a girl gets education and skills, her chances of bowing down to pressure of child marriage are reduced because she knows the drastic consequences of doing so. They are also equipped to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies, HIV and Aids and sexual exploitation.
Apart from defending themselves, educated girls are more likely to marry at a later age and have fewer children, reducing the population boom, which has brought about social and economic stress and pressure on Malawi’s fewer resources.
Therefore, what is needed is promote girls’ education and enhance their skills for them to stand up for their own rights and well-being. If a girl says no to child marriage or abuse, who can say yes to that?
Unless we empower girls to deal with their own issues in life, it will take Malawi ages to fight the crisis of child marriage because we are dealing with some quarters whose perception is rock-solid to change. Educate girls and enhance their life skills in order to end child marriage because they will be equipped with necessary skills to defend themselves from different kinds of human rights violations such as child marriage.