Accra, Feb. 12, GNA – The First Lady Mrs Lordina Mahama has said ending child marriage on the continent is critical to the realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), on Gender Equality and Poverty.
Mrs Mahama, who is the President of the Organisation of African First Ladies Against HIV and AIDS (OAFLA), has, therefore, urged all African heads of state to enforce the legislation passed on the marriageable age for girls at 18, in their respective countries.
“Any time a child is married, it is a reflection of our failure as an international community to care a little more; we cannot continue to fail, Let us protect our girls,” she said.
Speaking at the launch of Ghana’s Ending Child Marriage Campaign, and a welcome dinner held in Accra in honour of visiting African First Ladies in Accra, Mrs Mahama said, already millions of girls, and women, were suffering the effects of child marriage.
She said child brides were often deprived of their fundamental human rights to health, education and safety.
Additionally, they were neither physically nor emotionally ready to become wives and mothers, they were at greater risk of experiencing dangerous complications in pregnancy and childbirth as well as becoming infected with HIV and AIDS and suffer domestic violence, she said.
She said the launch of Ghana’s campaign would bring hope to many young girls whose education, ambitions and dreams were cut short, because society gave them only one choice – to become a child bride.
The First Lady stated that OAFLA was delighted that many African countries were taking the initiative to end child marriage very seriously as already, Ethiopia, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar and Niger had launched the campaign to end child marriage.
According to Mrs Mahama, Ghana’s event was also a positive response to the African Union (AU) continental call for action on the issue of child marriage, which was a global challenge.
She said data released by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in July 2014, indicated that, each year 15 million girls marries before the age of 18 and the breakdown revealed a rather shocking reality as each day, 41,000 girls got married; 28 girls every minute, with a girl getting married every two seconds.
The President of OAFLA said the global data also reveals that, more than 700 million women living today were married before they celebrated their 18th birthday and that was equivalent to 10 per cent of the world’s population.
She said out of the number, around one in three people, (more than 250 million) entered into the union before the age of 15, pointing out that although girls were usually most affected by child marriage, it should be noted that a large number of boys also married as children.
UNICEF, she said, identified South Asia and Africa as regions with the highest prevalence rates of child marriage as records indicated that, due to population growth, the devastating results of child marriage were likely to affect an even larger number of girls in Africa in the coming years.
The First Lady said it was estimated that, the number of child brides in sub-Saharan Africa, was expected to double by 2050, while the region would overtake South Asia to become the area with the largest number of child brides in the world.
She was worried that if nothing was done, the devastating effects for girls, their families and their countries would be too much to bear, pointing out that, the complex mix of cultural and economic factors pointed to the fact that there was not a single, simple solution.
She, however, believed that the strategy should be partnership, long-term programming and willingness to learn from the successes and failures.
While applauding the efforts of the African Union to provide a bright future for millions of women, and girls, when it launched the African Union Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa in 2014, Mrs Mahama gave the assurance that OAFLA would continue to offer the needed support to ensure that child marriage became a thing of the past in Africa.
Mrs Mahama expressed her gratitude to her sister first ladies and members of OAFLA, for making time to grace the occasion and added that, the response to her invitation to attend the meeting gave the hope that together, “We can fight, and overcome the challenges that confront us as African people”.
President John Dramani Mahama, who launched the initiative, gave the assurance of his Government’s commitment and support to end the practice.
The Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection, Nana Oye Lithur, who gave the situation of child marriage in Ghana, said, the prevalence was fuelled by poverty and deeply rooted social and cultural norms and traditions.
She said child marriage was a complex issue requiring coordinated interventions at different levels and across different sectors in order to yield results and a total elimination of the practice.
Nana Lithur said, in 2014, the Ministry established the Ending Child Marriage Unit and had since led in efforts to promote and coordinate national initiatives, aimed at ending the practice in Ghana.
The Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Under-Secretary General of the United Nations, Professor Babatunde Osotimehin, said the issue of child marriage was critical to building the capacity of people, and moving the continent forward.
He gave the assurance that the UNFPA would strongly back the efforts to stop child marriage.