Ghana Chooses Girls Over Brides, Launches ‘End Child Marriage’ Campaign

Even though government has devised policies and laws against child marriage and declared it a crime, the practice is still rampant. If the current trend persists, it can potentially cause irrevocable damage to the society.

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Child marriage rates are increasing at an alarming rate in Africa
Child marriage is a global issue, with an increasing number of cases reported from African countries. Pixabay
  • Child marriage is a global issue with the highest rates usually observed in African countries
  • Poverty, gender inequality, and ignorance are the main factors that contribute to child marriage
  • According to ICRW, 1/3rd of the girls in developing countries are married before 18 years of age

Ghana, August 14, 2017: I have a 16-year-old sister who studies in class tenth. She spends most of her time at school and spends the remaining hours playing with her friends, watching the TV and doing her homework. But imagine another 16-year-old girl taking care of her husband and kids, managing a family and running a house, instead of attending school? The practice of child marriage is a global issue. According to International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW), one-third of the girls growing up in developing countries are married before they turn 18 and one in every nine girls is married before the age of 15.

According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA),70 million girls will be married as children over the next five years if stringent efforts are not undertaken to alter the prevailing trend.

In Ghana, according to the 1992 Constitution and the Children’s Act (Act 560), the legal age for marriage is 18 years old. However despite the law, children are forced into marriage before they turn the specified age.

The practice of child marriage is increasing at an alarming rate in significant parts of Africa because of an inherent belief among adults that they can impose marriage upon girls. This largely denies the girl child to choose whom to marry, and when to marry leading to several health complications and even death.

John Abaa, a Senior program officer at Action Aid Ghana (AAG), an organization working on this issue in Ghana, believes that upon marriage, a girl is compelled to quit school and shift to a new place with new people, and take up roles that she is not mentally or physically prepared for. This, as a result, leads to isolation and depression, a growing cause of concern.

Child marriage is a human rights violation. However, despite laws against it, the practice remains rampant, in part because of persistent poverty and gender inequality.

While child marriage affects both the girls and the boys, the effects are more grave and disturbing on the girl child-

  1. Denial of rights 
  2. Impact on the girl’s health, future, and family
  3. Exploitation
  4. Waste of talent

FAILURE OF GOVERNMENTAL POLICIES

According to statistics by UNICEF, 96 girls at Bongo were found to be pregnant during the 2014-15 academic year, and the number increased to 111 girls in the 2015-16 academic year. Their figures were not only alarming but also the highest in the country.

Even though the government has devised policies and laws against child marriage and declared it a crime, the practice is still rampant. Greater efforts combined with help from other influential sectors of the society are needed to help curb this ill that currently engulfs the Bongo society.

ALSO READ: “Changing the law is not the ultimate end to child marriage” in Tanzania, says Activist

Officer Abaa also believes the Social Welfare and Community Development Department and the Ghana Education Service have failed to perform their part to curtail the practice. In an interview with GNA in May this year, he said that these organizations need to speed up processes as they hardly followed up on reported cases of child marriage, adding that this enables the perpetrators to take the girls to the southern part of the country, thus ruining their chance to get back to school.

Beacon of Hope : Action Aid Ghana (AAG)

Action Aid Ghana (AAG) a non-governmental organization currently active in 6 regions of GHana, has six interventions like the Young Urban Women Project (YUWP), the Community-based Anti-Violence Teams (COMBAT), girls’ camps and clubs that monitor child marriages and marriage by abduction of the child bride, and also focus on their prevention and rescue.

AAG is at present assisted by funding from UNICEF, and is implementing a two-year campaign project aimed at making a significant impact on,

  • Reduction of socio-cultural practices that promote child marriage
  • Helping children acquire skills, knowledge and right attitude to resist child marriage
  • Encouraging continuation of school education

Currently, the project is being implemented in 12 districts and 120 communities in the Greater Accra, Brong Ahafo, Upper East and Upper West Regions in Bongo, Ghana.

Since it’s inception in 2015, the project has been engaging actively with young groups to impart education and promotion of their rights and also supporting them with issues that concern them. To advance the reach and impact of the project, traditional, religious and opinion leaders are also being increasingly sensitized now and encouraged to “use their authority to abolish and modernize some of the cultural and religious practices that expose girls to early marriages and to strongly declare their stand against child marriage,” said Abena Anem-Adjei, the Project Coordinator of AAG in charge of the End Child Marriage Project, as reported by GNA.

Parents are also counseled to not hesitate in reporting cases of child marriages to child protection agencies like Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice, Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit and Department of Social Welfare and Community Development.

Senior program officer of AAG, John Abaa also told GNA, “We are making progress onwards ending child marriage as people are becoming aware of the negative effects of child marriage and supporting us to rescue girls from child marriage”.

Role of Traditional, Religious and Spiritual Leaders

Traditional and religious leaders in the Zorko community have also joined hands to come together to help create awareness and spread the word about the need to end child marriages in the area, because of the increasingly active presence they have.

The bodies that include the branch of the Presbyterian Church, the Catholic Church, the Christ Apostolic Church International, and the Muslem Community, among others pledged their commitment to help end child marriages by preaching and including the topic in their sermons.

A pledge to help curtail the societal ill was taken by these leaders at a community durbar organized at Zorko community in Bongo district by Action Aid Ghana.

According to GNA, Helen Adongo, an officer of the Social Welfare and Community Development warned parents against getting their daughters married before they turn the legal age that is 18 years old as this is against the 1992 Constitution and the Children’s Act.

 

According to her, parents force their daughters into matrimony when they get pregnant. Condemning the act, Helen believes in such a situation, the parents should take care of the daughters and let them continue with their education. Naba Victor Adendaa Awamyelum, the Chief of Zorko-Kodorogu and the Queen-mother for the area, Pognaba Ade-Ana Awamyelum also stressed upon education of the girl child and added that parents must be encouraged to give special attention to their daughters, as reported by GNA.

Malam Bashiru Ayoreyesia of the Muslem community (Ghana) believes God only cherishes happy families that could only be built by partners mature enough to take concrete decisions in favor of the family, as reported by GNA. Thus, to champion the cause, various religious leaders have pledged to preach against child marriage and to ensure that only mature people engage in it.


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