Sahel Region Of Africa Call For Action Against Child Marriage: Enough With The Silence
Hundreds of delegates from over 30 African countries including 4 first Ladies from Ghana, Niger, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the AU Commissioner for Social Affairs, Development Partners like Save the Children, and most importantly Youth Activists and Survivors of Child marriage, conveyed in Accra, Ghana from 20th – 24th November 2018 for the 2nd African Union (AU) Summit on Ending Child Marriage in Africa - an initiative by the AU. The four-day event, on the theme: “Enough with the Silence,” sought to address the core need of investing in adolescent education specifically access to services such as sexual health care, sexuality education and rights protection.
The Summit was a follow-up to the 1st AU Girls Summit held in 2015 in Zambia which aimed at sharing experiences and good practices, and ultimately initiating discussions and programmes to end child marriage at country, regional and international levels drawing experience from countries that have launched such campaigns internally. The 2nd AU Girls summit looked at progress made on commitments, interventions, measures and recommendations of keeping girls in school and facilitating Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR).
In line with efforts to end child marriage and other harmful traditional practices against girls, DANIDA in partnership with Save the Children has launched a Sahel Regional programme which seeks to increase organisational capacities of regional CSOs and youth networks in order to effectively engage the African Union to influence social and political change on Ending Child Marriage and Children on the Move in the Sahel.
The 2nd AU Girls Summit presented a great opportunity for Save the Children to support its partner WiLDAF-AO to host a high-level dialogue as a side event with delegates from the Sahel Region including: Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Chad. The dialogue which was held as a dinner at the La Palm Hotel drew representatives from Civil Society Organisations, Girls not Brides, Save the Children, WiLDAF-AO and most importantly Ms Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, the AU Goodwill Ambassador for the campaign to end Child marriage. The aim was for delegates to assess progress made in ending child marriage in the region, share experiences, lesson learnt, best practices and also to strategize on how to provide better protection for children against early marriage by bringing the key actors working together.
In sharing her experience, the AU Goodwill Ambassador for ECM appreciated the contribution of WiLDAF in her personal life. She appreciated information’s sharing on child marriage with Sahel countries and committed to paying a working visit to the regions. She urged all participants to fully commit to the course of ending child marriage by standing up, speaking out and solving our own problems. Other contributions from participants focused on accelerating efforts to push for sound and holistic programming, adequate resources allocation, and legislative reform, especially, setting the legal age of marriage at 18 for girls and boys.
Call for action: Delegates from the Sahel region at the side event were concerned about the high prevalence rate in the region and agreed that ending child marriage is the collective responsibility of both state and non-state actors. To this effect, participants committed to the following call for Action to end child marriage in the Sahel Region of Africa.
- identify and implement innovative strategies in order to bring SAHEL States to set the legal age of marriage to 18 for girls and boys and to take the necessary measures to ensure that these provisions are effectively implemented at all levels including the Courts and Tribunals;
- ensure that adequate resources are allocated to implement the campaign at the national level and all initiatives and strategies aimed at eradicating child marriage;
- urge the African Union to put in place a monitoring mechanism that will coordinate efforts and promote accountability of states in order to accelerate the eradication of child marriage in our societies to build “The Africa we want”.
In addition, the general summit also made some key recommendations including the following:
- States should invest in education of girls because few more years of education means such girls marry few years later and most importantly improve their social and possibly economic status in life.
- Strengthen integrated girl centred comprehensive sexuality, education and adolescent friendly SRHR services for in and out of school girls with focus on conflict zones, refugee camps, youth with disabilities, girls in prisons among others. Also, emphasis on parents and teachers.
- Break the silence: Empower young people especially girls to be able to stand up, speak up and challenge harmful socio-cultural, religious and traditional norms and values. Most importantly for the authorities to amply listen to the voices our girls, voices of those who are at risk.
- Legal frame work: government needs to enact laws and policies that prohibit the act and ensure its full implementation.
- Full inclusion of Persons Living with Disability: Accelerate and open up discussions further to include other vulnerable girls in conflict zones, deprived areas and most importantly persons living with disability since they are four times more vulnerable.
- Resource Allocation: it is critical to channel more resource to ending child marriage.
- Strengthen support for alternatives to child marriage, especially by making schools accessibly, enjoyable and affordable in the bid to keep girls interested.
- Collaboration and multisectoral approach: Best and effective approach to ending child marriage is through concerted effort. More government departments, local institutions, private sector, media, international agencies, parents, traditional and religious leaders and every individual should get involve.