Child Marriage in Africa; The Nitty-Gritties

Child marriage is defined as a “formal marriage or informal union of children under the age of 18”. It is considered a violation of human rights and a harmful traditional practice that affects girls more than boys, the aforementioned has many negative consequences for health, growth and development, it limits the economic and personal empowerment of girls. In response to this situation, the fight against child marriage has become a fundamental development and human rights issue.

Girl being forced to marriage

In Africa, one fifth of 20 to 24-year-old girls marry before the age of 18. While the rate of child marriage has declined in some regions of Africa, no progress has been made to eradicate it completely. Child Marriage however, remains unacceptable and an unlawful act. For various reasons, forced and child marriage practices exist in Africa and other parts of the world. The main driving factors of child marriage are multifaceted, related to gender inequality, poverty, social norms, cultural and traditional customs, and teenage pregnancy.

Africa Loses billions of dollars due to the challenges child marriage posses. “Child marriage will cost African countries tens of billions of dollars in lost earnings and human capital”, said a World Bank’s report. Young girls need rights, not rites, more than three million (or a third of) girls in Sub-Saharan Africa get married before their 18th birthday each year. Today, the region has the highest incidence of child marriage in the world. Compared to their peers who marry late, victims of child marriages are much more likely to drop out of school and complete fewer years of education. They are also more likely to have children at a young age, which affects their health as well as the education and health of their children.

Although many African countries have achieved gender parity in primary education, the report notes that girls lag behind boys in secondary level. In Sub-Saharan Africa, seven out of ten girls have completed primary education, but only four out of ten have completed secondary school. On average, women who have a secondary education are more likely to work and their income is twice as much as those with no education. Estimates from 12 countries accounting for half of the African continent’s population implements that child marriage through its impact on girl child education, is costing these countries $63 billion in lost earnings and human capital. Primary education for girls is simply not enough. Girls benefit most from education when they are able to complete secondary school, but we know that girls most often don’t stay in school if they marry early. Child marriage also leads to high fertility rates and population growth. If child marriage was ended today, lower population growth would lead to higher standards of living, especially for the poorest. Keeping girls in school is one of the best ways to avoid child marriage.

Each year of secondary education reduces the likelihood of marrying as a child before the age of 18 by a percentage of 5. The impact of child marriage and girls’ education is more than three dozen other development outcomes. In reality, child marriage leads to higher risk of intimate partner violence, and lower family decision-making.

Child marriage also affects the well-being of the children of young mothers, including higher risks of mortality and stunting (malnutrition) for children under 5years. Educating girls and promoting gender equality is a holistic effort to keep girls attending school, prevent child marriage, improve access to reproductive health services, and strengthen skills and job opportunities for adolescent girls and young women. The main countries with child marriages are: Niger (81.7%), Chad (77.9%), Guinea (72.8%), Mali (69.0%) and Nigeria (64.0%). In addition, compared with married women over the age of 18, women who have experienced child marriage are 8.00 times more likely to have more than 3 live births (lifetime fertility rate) (OR = 8.00, 95% CI: 7.52, 8.46). Compared with married adult women, women who have experienced child marriage are 1.13 times more likely to use modern contraceptive methods (OR = 1.13, 95% CI: 1.09, 1.19). Compared with women of marriageable age 18 years, women who married before legal age were 1.27 times more likely to terminate their pregnancy (OR = 1.27, 95% CI: 1.20 , 1.34). In addition, compared to women who marry late, women whose marriage age is less than 18 years are more likely to have children (OR = 5.83, 95% CI: 5.45, 6.24) .

However, women with a marriageable age 18 reduced preterm births and rapid repeat births, respectively. In conclusion The implementation of policies and plans against child marriage will help prevent negative consequences for women in sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, the social change plan on child marriage will help reduce child marriage and encourage the use of modern contraceptives, which will minimize the termination of pregnancy and delivery for life.

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