Violence against woman and other human rights violations against women and girls have become rife; to some extent we can even say endemic. According to the World Health Organization and UN Women, 1 in 3 women have experienced Violence in her lifetime. This refers to sexual, physical, psychological and other forms of violence and aggression towards women and girls.
The African Union just recently hosted the first ever Girls Summit to be organized in the region, the summit was hosted in Zambia on the 26th and 27th November 2015. The focus of the summit was to strengthen the continental efforts towards ending child marriage. Across the world, more than 40million girls have been married off before their 18th birthday. In Africa these figures become even soared according to countries, for example in Niger, more than 70% girls and in Chad more than 60% girls are married before their 8th birthday. This to me paints a picture of a normalized pervasive culture, one that deems it fit to violate girls’ rights, doom them to the cycle of poverty and curtail their efforts towards participating fully and effectively in their societies. The curtailed efforts extend to denial to access education, teenage pregnancy and the very high risk of death from Adolescent maternal mortality not mentioning economic dependence and the risk of the children borne of the adolescent mothers being doomed to infant mortality.
The summit brought together various stakeholders who are key in the fight against child marriage, particularly being cognizant of all the dimensions that should be taken into consideration when discussing child marriage. Government officials, United Nations Agencies, traditional leaders, civil society, young people, artists, goodwill ambassadors and private sector were those present at the summit. A clear message reverberated throughout the summit , Africa will not continue to allow her girls to be victims of child marriage, not in the name of culture, not in the name of poverty and certainly not in the name of ignorance. Putting in place strong legal and policy frameworks and pronouncing strong political commitment was put forward as priorities for those present.
The recognition of loss in human capital, economic development and violation of rights as perpetuated by child marriage was well articulated. Most importantly was the emphasis on addressing child marriage as a gender inequality issue and recognizing the role of quality education for girls in ending child marriage. The summit in an attempt to leave no one behind went to great lengths to feature the voices of all affected and part of the problem namely the girls who have been victims of child marriage and traditional leaders.
The various issues that are interconnected with child marriage such as girls being denied education, normalized harmful gender relations and sexual exploitation were tabled. This was a great start, to ensure that the problem of child marriage is illuminated on closely and the multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination that girls in such unions face are well articulated. To address girls access to quality education calls for discussing their retention, completion and transition within education systems. At the same time, their access to water, sanitation and hygiene facilities and menstrual hygiene is crucial coupled with addressing the burden of unpaid care work that child brides have to endure.
African young people, heads of governments, civil society and other stakeholders made a case for abandoning child marriage. An African Common Position and strong outcome statement was the outcome of the meeting and the voices of those who spoke a mark of commitment.We must all now brace ourselves and protect the dignity, human rights and place of girls in our society, commit to uphold societies free from violence against women. We must make the commitments and the voices featured during the summit worthwhile for African Girls.
ACCPD joined partners, allies and governments to attend the summit and engage political leaders in advocating towards the end of Child Marriage. This is the first generation that stand a real chance to end child marriage and at ACCPD we will not relent with our advocacy efforts.