Child mar­riage costs coun­tries bil­lions: WB

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AC­CRA — Re­spect Ru­vimbo Topodzi was 15 and walk­ing home from school in her na­tive Zim­babwe when a 22-year-old man asked her out.

She turned him down but it was too late.

Her fa­ther saw them and as­sumed they were al­ready to­gether. He told her she had to marry the man and live with him. She dropped out of school and soon be­came preg­nant.

It was only when her hus­band be­came abu­sive that she was al­lowed back to the fam­ily home. Since then, Topodzi has been work­ing to stop other girls hav­ing the same ex­pe­ri­ence.

She took on the gov­ern­ment to change the law and in­crease the min­i­mum le­gal age of con­sent for mar­riage from 16 to 18.

“As a mother and sur­vivor of child mar­riage, I am so pas­sion­ate about end­ing child mar­riage,” she said at a re­cent con­fer­ence on the sub­ject in Ghana’s cap­i­tal Ac­cra.

“I know how it feels to be mar­ried early and I know how you han­dle things in your mar­riage — that is so dif­fi­cult.”

Ev­ery year of sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion re­duces the like­li­hood of mar­ry­ing be­fore the age of 18 by five per­cent or more, it added in the re­port, “Ed­u­cat­ing Girls and End­ing Child Mar­riage”.

West Africa in par­tic­u­lar has the high­est preva­lence of mar­riage be­fore age 15, and of the top 20 coun­tries with the high­est rates of child mar­riage in the world, 18 are in Africa.

Yvette Kathurima Muhia, from the Girls Not Brides or­gan­i­sa­tion of more than 1,000 civil so­ci­ety groups work­ing on the is­sue, said gov­ern­ments and com­mu­ni­ties need to work to­gether.

Twenty-four coun­tries have launched na­tional strate­gies to end the prac­tice since the African Union be­gan a cam­paign to stop child mar­riage by 2023.

But she said more needed to be done, par­tic­u­larly to keep girls in school by pro­vid­ing free meals, san­i­tary items and trans­port.

“Then the fam­i­lies feel they can send the girls to school, where they have sup­port and in­cen­tives rather than if they were at home,” she added. the drought in western Afghanistan, which has dis­placed more than 250,000 peo­ple, has wors­ened an al­ready dire hu­man­i­tar­ian sit­u­a­tion, com­pelling some fam­i­lies to sell their daugh­ters to pay off debt or buy food.

At least 161 chil­dren be­tween t he ages of j ust one month and 16 were sold be­tween July and Oc­to­ber, ac­cord­ing to UNICEF.

Kathurima Muhia, head of Africa en­gage­ment at Girls Not Brides, con­ceded that the AU’s 2023 tar­get to erad­i­cate the prac­tice was “not go­ing to hap­pen”, de­scrib­ing progress so far as “slow-mov­ing”.

As well as ad­dress­ing poli­cies and le­gal re­forms, so­cial norms must change in com­mu­ni­ties too, she added.

At the same time, peo­ple need to un­der­stand that there are no cul­tural or re­li­gious rea­sons to marry off young girls, she said.

In Septem­ber, the mar­riage of a 15-year-old Malaysian girl to a 44-year-old man sparked anger, two months after a girl aged just 11 was mar­ried off to a 41-year-old.

But child mar­riage is not just an is­sue in the de­vel­op­ing world: in June last year, the US state of New York over­hauled leg­is­la­tion that al­lowed chil­dren as young as 14 to get mar­ried.

The age of con­sent to marry there is now 18, putting pres­sure on other US states to fol­low suit.

De­spite grow­ing aware­ness of the prac­tice, as pol­icy mak­ers met in Ghana a 17-year-old girl in South Su­dan was auc­tioned for mar­riage on Face­book, caus­ing in­ter­na­tional out­rage.

The vi­ral post even­tu­ally led to the largest dowry ever recorded in the fledg­ling war-torn na­tion, with the high­est bid­der a man three times older than her.

Oth­ers bid­ding in­cluded a deputy state gov­er­nor, ac­cord­ing to re­ports. Kathurima Muhia said that in­di­cated the scale of the task at hand.

“One of the chal­lenges we are hav­ing on the con­ti­nent is where the pol­i­cy­mak­ers them­selves who are sup­posed to pro­tect the law are the ones who are break­ing it and child mar­riage is a key way of demon­strat­ing that,” she added. — AFP

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