71838Child marriage is a worrying phenomenon in Africa. Many girls below 18 years are either forced into marriage or are married off without their consent. Ghana is one of the African countries experiencing child marriage, although on a low level, compared to other countries on the continent.

According to the latest report of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), 277,000 women in Ghana aged 20 to 24 were married before they reached the age of 18, which means they were married as children.

In comparison with other countries in the world and the global rate of 36 per cent, the 25 per cent rate in Ghana is relatively low. Nevertheless, child marriage is not uncommon in Ghana.

Child marriage, defined as a marriage in which one or both parties are under 18 years, is most common in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

It is usually forced by the family and represents, perhaps, the most prevalent form of sexual abuse and exploitation of girls.

It is estimated that if child marriage is left unchecked, an additional 100 million girls in developing countries will be married within the next decade – some even before they reach the age of 10. This translates to about 25000 every day.

This speculation should show us that we have a serious problem we have to fight against; especially when we consider that it is both a human right abuse and a barrier to development.

Children have the right to refuse being a subject of dowry, betrothal and marriage and women have the right to live their own lives in dignity, free from hunger, fear of violence, oppression or injustice.

Child marriage is against the laws

Child marriage is against the laws of Ghana because the 1992 Constitution pegs the legal age for marriage at 18.

Some volunteers and leaders from ‘Projects Abroad Human Rights Office’, a non-governmental organization (NGO), have decided to fight against this serious problem of child marriage. They seek to help a good number of people to become acquainted with their rights and safeguards.

The organization, therefore, researches, gets into contact with judicial institutions and caters for social justice. That means practically that members of Projects Abroad would hold conferences to inform different groups of people, and recognize human rights violations and search for solutions.

Members of the organization have also informed the National Commission for Civil Education (NCCE) about the difficulties associated with child marriage and the commission is expected to go to different communities to create awareness about the issue.

Different forms of marriage

First of all, through their studies the members found out that there were three different forms of legal marriages, namely the religious marriage, common marriage and customary marriage, and that the minimum age of marriage was only applicable in common marriage. Furthermore, though child marriage is considered illegal in Ghana, they identified four types of its occurrence.

The most common one of the four is the arranged marriage that is performed under duress and without the full and informed consent or free will of both parties. Most of the victims are also young girls who are forced into the marriage.

People fall victim to forced marriage through deception, abduction, coercion, fear and inducements. That means that they feel both physical and emotional pressures.

Early betrothal

Another type is the early betrothal, which often concerns girls who are not older than two years but betrothed to secure their future.

The third form of child marriage is the short-term marriage in which men take advantage of their wives for a few months, primarily for sex and subsequently divorce them.

Besides, girls are pledged to traditional priests in Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria to atone for an offence committed by a family member. In this servile marriage, which is the fourth type of child marriage, girls become domestic and sexual slaves.

All these types of child marriages have bad consequences and risks. For example, under nutrition and malnutrition, maternal and infant mortality, obstetric fistula, HIV infection, high dropout rate, domestic violence and psychological effects.

The question arises as to why children are given out for marriage. The Projects Abroad Human Rights Office also thought about it and tried to answer the question.

According to the organization, there are various reasons for child marriage and you can put them all under three topics, namely religious, tradition and customary.

Dealing with child marriage

However, there are solutions to this serious problem. First of all, the girls should be informed about their rights so that they can understand that they can fight against any abuse and they should be supported in all aspects. But as the Human Rights Office stresses, it is also important to support parents who support their daughters’ decision to continue their studies and enjoy their childhood, delaying the choice to become a wife and mother.

Some programs which could cut the rate of child marriage in the past focused on three key issues which include providing girls with life skills such as numeracy, literacy, using a telephone or articulating their needs and interests to and raising awareness and commitment among parents, teachers, religious leaders and other influential adults to eradicate forced child marriage.

What does this mean? Everyone can do something to eliminate this problem. The first step is that people must be informed. And everyone who has the opportunity to inform him/herself should do that and also inform others who don’t know anything about it.

Children around the world have a right to experience childhood – to make friends, go to school, pursue their aspirations and live a healthy life. The practice of forced child marriage robs them of these opportunities. Ending child marriage will not only protect and ensure that children enjoy a better future; it will also contribute to stronger and healthier communities. With increased support and education, we have the opportunity to make the community more aware of child marriage as a human rights abuse and to help reduce the number of child marriages in the future.

By Guest Writer: Marina Oberloher