Youth advocate and member of youth action movement (YAM), Mohammed Numbo Fathiyat share her opinion on the need to end child marriage and empowering the girl child
Child marriage is a situation where by young girls who are usually below 18 years are married off by their parents or guardians to men who, in most cases are much older than the girls. This act is a human rights violation that prevents the girls from having access to education, enjoying optimal health, bonding with others their own age, maturing and ultimately choosing their own life partners.
CAUSES AND EFFECTS
In many countries, the legal age for marriage is 18 years yet some governments enforce these laws loosely. Parents want to ensure their daughter’s financial security; however, daughters are considered an economic burden. Boys, unlike girls will live with their families, become breadwinners and cater for their parents, wives, children and other members of the family. Meanwhile, on the other hand, some families think that feeding, clothing and educating girls is costly, and because girls will eventually leave the household as brides, it is not really necessary to pay much attention to them.
In most countries, it is also believe that, a family’s only way to recover it’s investment in a daughter may be to have her married in exchange for a dowry. In some countries, the dowry decreases as the girl gets older, which may tempt parents to have their daughters married at younger ages. These are not necessarily heartless parents, but rather; parents who are surviving under heartless conditions. Additionally, child marriages form new alliances between tribes, clans and villages; reinforce social ties; and stabilize vital social status.
Some parents worry about ensuring their daughter’s virginity and chastity. Child marriage is also seen as a protective mechanism against premarital sexual activity, unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). The latter concern is even greater in this era HIV/AIDS.
Girls who marry young tend to be from poor families and to have low levels of education. If they marry men outside their village, they must move away. Coping with the unfamiliar inside and outside the home creates an intensely lonely and isolated life. As these girls assume their new roles as wives and mothers, they also inherit the primary job of domestic worker. Also, because the husband has paid a hefty dowry, the girl has immediate pressure to prove her fertility.
Girls often embrace their fate and bear children quickly to secure their identity, status, and respect as an adult. As a result, these young girls have high total fertility rates but have missed the opportunities to be children, to play, develop friendships, become educated and build social skills so as to become better and meaningful people in the society.
SOLUTIONS TO END CHILD MARRIAGE
There are numerous ways of curbing child marriage. These numerous measures of ending child marriage include:
- Empower girls with information, skills and support networks;
By bringing girls together to learn basic skills like literacy and numeracy, how to communicate and negotiate with others, how to stay healthy during their reproductive years, how to work together to solve problems, and how to earn and manage money, girls ca n become more knowledgeable and self confident. Also, meeting peers and mentors helps alleviate the social and economic isolation many girls in developing countries experience. Taken together, these gains enable girls to advocate for themselves, make better decisions and aspire to alternatives to early marriage.
- Encourage Supportive Laws and Policies;
Many countries with high rates of child marriage have passed legislation to prohibit the practice or have established a legal minimum age for marriage. Advocating for the implementation of such laws, raising awareness among government officials and community leaders and members, helps strengthen and/ or better enforcement of existing initiatives around girl’s rights. Where legislation is not on the books, advocating for legal and policy reform is a critical step.
- Enhance girl’s access to a high quality education;
Girls with no education are three times likely to marry before 18 years as compared to those with secondary or higher education. Providing incentives such as uniforms or scholarships-or the necessary skills and support for girls to enroll and remain in school can help delay marriage. When girls are in school, they are less likely to be seen as ready for marriage by their families and community members. Programs aimed at improving the safety and girl-friendliness of schools, strengthening school curricula and making school lessons relevant to girl’s lives are effective. School allows girls to develop supportive social networks as well as the skills and knowledge to better advocate for themselves and their futures.
- Educate and rally parents and community members;
Families and community elders are traditionally responsible for deciding when and whom a girl marries. Educating them through meetings, information campaigns, public announcements, etc, about how child marriage impacts a girl’s health and future often sparks powerful change. With new knowledge, adults attitudes and behaviors towards child marriage can shift; they become more likely to challenge, rather than embrace, traditional expectations of girls.
- Provide economic support and incentives to girls and their families;
Parents may benefit financially from marrying their daughters off early, either through gaining a bride price , lowering the price of the required dowry, or simply having one less mouth to feed. Approaches that enhance the economic security of poor households can aid curbing child marriage. Providing a girl or her family with an incentive, such as a loan or an opportunity to learn an income generating skill, can yield immediate economic relief for struggling families. Daughters who learn skills that enable them to earn an income in the future may be seen as adding more value to the family.