UNICEF warns of millions more child brides in Africa

(Photo: Compassion UK)

UNICEF has just released a report revealing that 45 million more girls in sub-Saharan Africa will become child brides over the next decade if progress to end the practice is not accelerated.

Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa, points out that in poorer rural areas that have a higher prevalence of child marriage, there is a need for “multisectoral and contextualized interventions”. Local churches are ideally placed to provide this. They don’t just know the communities they support; they are part of it. That’s why Compassion, an international child development charity, works through local partner churches.

Efforts are being made by faith partners to address child marriage by educating caregivers, faith leaders, local authorities and parents to raise awareness of girls’ rights, the importance of their education and the dangers associated with child marriage. child marriage. However, girls like Djamila* are still at risk.

Djamila and her parents live in a remote village in eastern Burkina Faso, where the rate of early marriage is among the highest. It’s his story.

One evening in December 2019, his sister brings him disturbing news.

“My sister secretly overheard my father discussing the wedding ceremony and she informed me the same evening. My father was preparing my wedding in the coming days,” says Djamila. She was only 14 years old.

Driven by poverty or pressed by tradition, some parents in Burkina Faso do not hesitate to marry off their daughters at a very young age. The impact of the COVID pandemic has intensified this.

Djamila’s father planned to marry her to an older man before her 15th birthday. Worse, the father did not consult Djamila or his mother about his intentions. Although the legal age of marriage in the country is 17, UNICEF reports that more than 52% of girls are married before the age of 18, with 10% marrying before the age of 15.

Marrying as a teenager would mean that Djamila’s right to education, optimal health and protection would be denied. The dangers of child marriage are horrific and well known. They are at increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases, cervical cancer, death during childbirth and obstetric fistulas. The impact extends to future generations, as their children are more likely to be raised in poverty.

Djamila immediately informed the staff at the Compassion Center of her father’s terrifying plans.

“I knew my father was serious about marriage. I rushed to the center and wrote a letter to the director of the project. I knew she could, and she would do anything to save me of this scourge”, says Djamila. His dream is to become a biology teacher. How could she become someone’s wife and continue her studies?

As soon as the project director read Djamila’s note, Martha immediately intervened by activating the child protection process in collaboration with the local authorities. The church pastor hosted Djamila at his home for four days until the matter was resolved, to prevent her from being kidnapped by her future husband. The police and agents of the Ministry of Social Affairs were also alerted and involved in the process.

“When I read the letter, I couldn’t believe what Djamila was writing. She was afraid of going home as a helpless girl. The pastor took her to his family for his safety. I called his mother for detailed information and she confirmed to me that the father was organizing the traditional wedding of Djamila in the following hours,” says Martha.

Three days after the centre’s intervention, Djamila’s parents were invited to attend a meeting at the local police station. The police officer explained the law to family members and the dangers of child marriage, sensitizing them that child marriage is prohibited and is a violation of the law.

After the meeting, her father changed his mind and today Djamila is back with her parents and safe. Thanks to the centre’s diligent intervention, Djamila escaped early marriage because her parents were made aware of the consequences of the illegal practice.

“Without the support of the center, I would have been married against my will at a young age. I thank the center workers for saving me from becoming a woman. God bless them,” Djamila says smiling.

“I can say that child protection is our top priority this season. Because children have not yet resumed activities at the center due to COVID-19 measures, we must stay in contact with each child registered by through phone calls and home visits,” says Marthe. “I have intentionally identified people in the community who can notify the child protection specialist at any time of any cases of abuse.”

Efforts are being made by Compassion’s partner churches to address child marriage by educating caregivers, faith leaders, local authorities and parents to raise awareness of girls’ rights, the importance of their education and the dangers associated with child marriage. However, girls like Djamila are still at risk.

Djamila has a message for all parents who want to marry off their children: that they stop giving their daughters to men. “I want to alert the world to the marriage of girls. It is not good to marry girls against their will,” she says. “

“Girls must have the opportunity and the freedom to choose their future husbands without pressure from relatives. Stop giving your daughters away as objects to men. Give them the chance to finish their studies, to be mature before their marriage.”

Girls like Djamila continue to advocate for an end to child marriage in communities, with the support of their families, churches and the Compassion centre. To show that change is possible. Show the power and potential of 45 million girls.

For more information on how you can help Stop The Weddings go to www.compassionuk.org/stop or follow them on social media @CompassionUK

*Name has been changed for security reasons.

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