Amina, from a rural village in Nigeria, was 13 when she was married to a wealthy man in his 50s who already had three wives and several children.
Amina married the man after the death of her own father. When she did, her dreams of becoming a doctor evaporated. Her life changed in other ways too. She was subjected to physical and emotional abuse. She became a mother at an age when some of her peers were in junior high school. Amina’s new husband refused to allow her to continue her education. She felt trapped in a life she never wanted.
Child marriage is an intractable challenge in many countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. One of the main challenges in ending the practice is related to the social context in which child marriage occurs.
Studies show that girls as young as 10 are forced to marry older men, often against their will, and are expected to bear children and perform household chores. Many may choose to elope or marry because of a lack of opportunities.
The emotional impact of child marriage on girls like Amina is devastating. They are denied their childhood, their dreams and their freedom. They are forced into a life of servitude and are often subjected to abuse and exploitation. Raising awareness about this issue and working towards ending the various factors associated with child marriage are essential.
Child marriage is a complex issue deeply rooted in social, cultural and economic factors in many African countries. However, there are policies and programs targeted at giving equal opportunities to young women to bridge the inequality gap while other programs have focused on changing the social norms surrounding child marriage.
These programs don’t always work. One study highlighted how improved opportunities for girls in Malawi, for example, has not translated into a reduction in child marriages.
Data on child marriage remains limited, especially during COVID, although UNICEF reports show young girls from Ethiopia, Mozambique, Uganda and Zambia were at risk of child marriage during the pandemic. This lack of data makes it difficult to predict whether countries have had a reduction in the practice. While some countries have taken steps to prevent it during the pandemic, the long-term impact of the pandemic on child marriage rates is still unclear.
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There is evidence to suggest child marriage rates may have actually increased during the pandemic. The significant impact the pandemic had on the global economy had a direct impact on the main reason for child marriage: poverty.
Economic instability has often resulted in child marriages because families tend to marry off their daughters to offset financial burdens, ensure economic stability in the household or strengthen their positions in the community.
The closure of schools during the pandemic also contributed. Schools can be a source of supervision and protection for young women from their families and communities who may be forcing them into unions. Girls are also able to access information at schools about their rights and opportunities available to them which may be key for them in advocating for themselves. The social network available to young women in schools may also protect them from the risks of child marriage.
Flexible education options to accommodate girls who have married or who are at risk of marriage can actually help too by providing part-time or evening classes for young women so they can balance their domestic responsibilities with their education.
It’s important to try to get girls back to school.
Schools can offer safe and supportive environments to young women that are free from discrimination, harassment, and violence. Girls who married young may require additional support and resources, such as counselling, to help them reintegrate into the school environment. Financial assistance for women who can not afford to go back to school can also help.
Other ways to get girls back to school post-pandemic can focus on raising awareness about the dangers of child marriage among families and in communities — with a specific focus on religious leaders.
Religious leaders can play a crucial role in preventing child marriage by influencing attitudes and behaviours within their communities. They can use their teachings to emphasise the importance of respecting girls’ autonomy and their right to education, health and a safe childhood. These leaders can also serve as role models to young boys and girls who may see marriage as a means to an end.
If religious leaders can engage with community members and establish a dialogue about the harm child marriage does, families may be less likely to engage in the practice. They could use religious and cultural values to promote the idea that education and the well-being of girls are important and frame their messages in ways that resonate with community members, emphasising the importance of protecting girls from harm.
Faith leaders have a platform they could use to advocate for girls’ rights and promote education as a means to support their communities. They could foster alliances and partnerships with the government, civil society organisations and other stakeholders because of their position in African societies.
It is important for religious leaders to recognise they have a key role in the prevention of child marriage. By using their influence and platform they can help create a safer and more supportive environment for girls to thrive.
This article was originally published by 360info™.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: Schools can offer safe and supportive environments to young women that are free from discrimination, harassment, and violence. Featured Photo Credit: Matt Lucht.