African First Ladies at the just ended African Union (AU) summit in Rwanda made a commitment to continue fighting child marriage across the continent. In their recommendations, at the 17th Assembly of the African First Ladies committed to continue to ensure the launch of the campaign to End Child Marriage in all their countries.
Child marriage remains a huge problem across the continent, where 40 percent of girls in sub-Saharan Africa are married before reaching their 18th birthday, putting their lives, health and future in grave danger.
Child marriage is considered one of the most harmful traditional practices on the continent and the AU has sought to put an end to this prevalent age-old practice. To combat the problem, protect and improve the lives of millions of girls, in 2014 the AU launched its first Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa.
About 14 countries have since launched the campaign. However, almost three quarters of governments are yet to launch the campaign, hence the commitment by African First Ladies to ensure countries launch of the campaign this year and next year.
The commitment is indeed a welcome development, and it signals the much needed will to compel governments to act on the practice in line with regional and international conventions. A number of countries have recently started implementing plans to end child marriage, in accordance with AU common position, which calls on government to enact legislation, which specify the minimum age of marriage to be 18 years and to make registration of all marriages in an official registry compulsory”.
Tanzania recently passed a provision, which stipulates that men who impregnate or marry schoolgirls will face 30 years in prison as part of the government’s commitment to fight and prevent child marriage.
Similarly, Gambia also announced plans to enact a law banning child marriage, and the President Yahya Jammeh declared that any person who marries a girl below the age of 18 will face 20 years in prison.
There is hope that more countries will follow the example set by others in the fight against child marriage, to ensure that child rights are protected and strengthened, to enhance opportunities available to African children.