Wednesday, 01 March 2017 08:36

GHANA: Gender Minister Calls for Zero Tolerance on Child Marriage

ACCRA, 27 February 2017 - Madam Otiko Afisa Djaba, the Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection, has called for zero tolerance on child marriages in Africa.

She said all children must be protected from abuses such as child marriages; which stunts the girl child's educational opportunities.

Madam Djaba made the call Monday in Accra during the opening of the African Union (AU) Department of Social Affairs’ three-day regional capacity building workshop on increased advocacy to ending child marriage through media engagement.

Participants for the West and Central Africa Regional workshop were drawn from Ghana, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Gabon and the Gambia.

The rest are Guinea- Conakry, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.

The overarching objective of the workshop seeks to enhance the capacity of the media to better investigate and report on child marriages in Africa with a focus on addressing the root causes and the different facets of the issue; and challenging all stakeholders towards ending the practice.

The workshop sought to link the role of the media as key information transmitters in delivering the key tenets of the AU Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa, the AU’s Agenda 2063 and Sustainable Development Goals.

Citing statistics, the Gender Minister noted that out of 700 million women and girls worldwide, 125 million of those that were married before their 18th birthday were in Africa.  She said Africa’s population was expected to grow rapidly in the coming years putting more girls, especially those dwelling in rural areas, at higher risk.

She cited an African Child Policy Forum (ACPF) document that said out of the 41 countries world-wide with child marriage prevalence rates of 30 per cent or more, 30 were in Africa.  Madam Djaba noted that 39 of girls in Africa were married before their 18th birthday. “In Ghana on average, one out of five girls in Ghana is married before their 18th birthday.  In other words, the percentage of girls between 20-24 years who are married or in a union by the age 18 is 21 per cent,” she added.

She noted that child marriage was becoming less common in Ghana; one in five young women today were married before 18, compared to one in three in the early 1990s. She pointed out that if observed trends continue, the prevalence of child marriage in Ghana could halve by 2050.

“With an acceleration of progress, these values could be even lower. Furthermore, the regional trends show variations, with a progressive widening gap between the Northern and Central/Southern zones of the country,” she stated.  “The traditional practice of marrying girls under the legal age of 18 was often a manifestation of gender inequality and the respective societies’ views about the gendered roles of women and girls.

Also, a consequence of the interplay between poverty, archaic traditions and customs and patriarchal norms, child marriage is primarily a rights issue, denying millions of girls their rights to access education, rights to health, mobility and safety,” she said.

"Marrying girls at such a young age not only robs them of their childhood, but also has grave consequences on their health; often unable to negotiate safe sex making them vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS, teenage pregnancy, morbidity and mortality," the Minister added.

She said the rate of education among women married at early ages was also very low, negatively impacting their access to formal education.

She said similarly, power dynamics makes girls vulnerable to various forms of violence, including but not limited to sexual violence.

She said in Ghana, significant effortswere also underway to address child marriage.

She explained that according to Ghana’s 1992 Constitution, a person under the age of 18 was a child and therefore, could not marry or be given off in marriage.

Ms Djaba said Ghana had launched an Ending Child Marriage Campaign, the Children’s Act, the Child and Family Welfare Policy; which engage different sectors of government, civil society, development partners, the media, children, religious and traditional leaders in a joint effort to eliminate child marriage in Ghana.

"One of the priority actions of the Ending Child Marriage Campaign is the development of a 10-year National Strategic Framework to provide an integrated vision and a clear direction to all stakeholders," she stated.

She noted that the media was one of the most important socialising agents that shaped the lives of millions of people; adding that “it highly affects the values, attitude and behaviour of individuals.”

She said practices such as child marriage were often perceived as customary and considered to occur within traditional and religious contexts.  “While it is important to put in place the relevant laws, policies and strategies that address child marriage, failure to popularize and enforce these instruments and show the challenges posed by the continuance of the practice on Africa’s socio-economic development, will result in good policies without a proper framework for implementation,” she said.

She said the role of the media in galvanising the needed conversation and engendering the change that needs to happen, cannot be overemphasised.Ms Djaba called upon other Ministers of Gender in the Region to enhance their support to the media in consistently positioning child marriage in media and public discourse as well as supporting the AU Campaign to End Child Marriage in general.
“To be able to make the change, we must recognise that Child Marriage is a violation of human rights that has a devastating impact on both boys and girls,” she said.

She also urged her fellow Gender Ministers to report progress made towards the elimination of child marriage since the establishment of the office of the Special Rapporteur on child marriages.

Ms Fadimata Alainchar, the Country Director of Plan International Ghana, urged the media to take up the issue of ending child marriage very seriously. She said the media played a significant role in shaping the perception and social norms through transmission of certain messages.

She said ending the harmful practice of child marriage therefore required engaging the media for increased advocacy on the factors fuelling the practice, the resultant challenges and the benefits of ending the practice.

By Iddi Yire

Source: Ghana News Agency

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