When girls are forced to drop out of school because they marry, often well before their 18th birthday and rarely by choice, it perpetuates a life of poverty and the denial of girls’ rights and their ability to realize their potential. .
As part of the Joint UNFPA-UNICEF Global Program to End Child Marriage (GPECM), experts on ending child marriage met last week to renew their commitment to these efforts, with particular emphasis over eastern and southern Africa. The event brought together over 200 participants and covered issues ranging from high-level leadership engagement, engagement of youth and community-led organizations, to funding for scale-up and sustainability . In this region, COVID-19 has caused a reversal of gains made over the past two decades and is expected to contribute to 10 million more child marriages as socio-economic pressures intensify and poverty worsens .
GPECM was launched in 2016 with a focus on 12 high prevalence countries around the world. It has had significant successes, especially in India and Ethiopia, where numbers have started to decline. Yet, as the program commemorated five years at an event on October 11-12, this region continues to be a priority due to the high prevalence and incidence of child marriage: 53 percent of girls in Mozambique, 40 percent in Ethiopia, 34 percent 100% in Uganda and 29% in Zambia are married before the age of 18.
Zambia Vice President and Ms. Graca Machel on investing in girls
The high-level event was opened by Ms. Graça Machel, Founder of the Graça Machel Trust, followed by Her Honor Mutale Nalumango, Vice-President of Zambia.
Ms. Machel stressed the need to work with men and boys to address the toxic masculinities that contribute to high rates of child marriage. She also called for stronger community interventions to end this practice.
Ms. Nalumango said her country was investing in girls and redoubling efforts to educate communities on the direct and long-term impacts of child marriage. Their programs also focused on girls who were already married: “Our government will not abandon them. Access to education, economic opportunities and health services, including HIV prevention and sexual and reproductive health, will help enrich their lives and improve their future, ”she said.
Ms. Nalumango warned that if Africa is to achieve its vision as set out in the African Union’s Agenda 2063, intersectoral action is needed at all levels to address the root causes of child marriage. These include poverty, lack of opportunities for girls, lack of girls’ access to education, negative social and cultural practices, and gender inequalities.
Pregnancy-related complications, leading cause of death in girls aged 15-19
Dr Bannet Ndyanbangi, UNFPA Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, described his personal experiences as a doctor in Uganda, where he witnessed childbirth complications in girls who were not mature enough to give birth. In eastern and southern Africa, complications from pregnancy are the leading cause of death among adolescents aged 15 to 19. and tools to protect their own health and well-being and prevent child marriage.
SADC Parliamentary Forum Secretary General Boema Sekgoma said the SADC Model Law on Child Marriage has made progress in evolving legislation in the region, to provide enabling legal and policy environments. end child marriage through links between comprehensive sexuality education, early and unintended pregnancy and child marriage.
Over the past five years, at least 10 of the 15 SADC Member States have made significant progress in putting in place measures to end child marriage. And at least eight SADC member states have included comprehensive sexuality education in school curricula to raise awareness among children about child marriage and the legal age of marriage.
However, increased efforts are needed to disseminate information and material at the local level, working in partnership with civil society and encouraging role models and mentors to champion the cause. Nerida Nthamburi from Girls not Brides and Dr Annabel Erulkar from the Ethiopian Population Council spoke of the success of targeted, focused and sustained interventions in changing attitudes in this regard. Experts from civil society, youth-led organizations such as AfriYAN, traditional and community leaders, government officials and UN agencies stressed the importance of partnerships to advance collective work to end child marriage and mainstream new and emerging issues such as COVID-19 and climate crises.
Pick up the pace to end child marriage by 2030
Sustained and increased funding is needed to achieve the goal of ending child marriage for every girl. GPECM is currently supported by the governments of Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, United Kingdom and the European Union, as well as Zonta International. Donors representing Canada, Norway and the EU spoke at the GPECM event and reaffirmed their commitment to ending child marriage as well as addressing key related issues such as sexual and reproductive health, gender equality and bodily autonomy.
The event was adjourned with a full declaration of results which highlighted child marriage as a human rights violation and called on key actors from different dimensions to step up the pace towards ending child marriage. by 2030.
About the UNFPA-UNICEF Global Program to End Child Marriage
GPECM protects and promotes the rights of adolescent girls to prevent marriage and pregnancy, encourages them to continue their educational activities and to seize alternative opportunities. GPECM also addresses the underlying conditions that support child marriage, advocating for laws and policies that protect girls’ rights while stressing the importance of using solid data to inform these policies.
Daisy Diamante Leoncio
Regional communications advisor
UNFPA East and Southern Africa – Johannesburg
UNICEF East and Southern Africa – Nairobi