Striping the Unripe for Marriage

It was early morning as already planned and scheduled for the Ayorogo family (not real names) to give out their 15-year-old girl to be married off according to the Islamic marriage ceremony for the Ayinbono family. It was in Nangodi in the Upper East Region. Prior to the marriage, arrangements for the ‘Leefi,’ usually consisting of clothing, sandals, personal care, and other items for the bride (Amaria), termed usually in the Hausa parlance, were all set. Displeasure Though the family had consented to the marriage, comments from schoolmates of the bride-to-be, school club members, teachers, and the community scorned at the premature marriage plans of the young girl and the decision taken by the family to marry off the girl despite the fact that child marriage was widely viewed as child abuse. Through an advocacy men’s groups in the region and concerned community members, the marriage was suddenly halted with combined efforts of the Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU), the Department of Gender, and members of the public despite the girl’s refusal to go to school. The young girl’s preference is to learn a trade instead. Drivers of Early Marriages Some of the driving factors behind girls entering into early marriages include economic, social, and cultural elements. Families, often in dire need, seek to collect dowries from suitors and marry off their daughters to alleviate financial problems, sometimes without the girl’s consent. The anticipated Muslim marriage ceremony that was annulled in the Upper East Region is just one example of many child marriage incidents that continue to affect villages in Ghana, especially in the northern regions. Child marriage brings with it numerous challenges, including health implications, withdrawal from school, reduced employment opportunities, and limitations on the personal development of young girls. Health experts indicate that the major causes of death among youths aged 15 to 17 are related to unsafe abortion and complications in pregnancy and delivery. Additionally, teenagers are more likely to die from complications such as ectopic pregnancy, rectovaginal fistula, and secondary infertility. Moreover, around half a million women die every year worldwide due to pregnancy and childbirth-related complications, with most of these deaths occurring in high-risk categories such as women who are too young, too old, or ill. While Ghana is making efforts to promote girls’ education, skill development, and providing employment opportunities through government policies, the fact that brides as young as 15 are married is a significant concern and necessitates accelerated action to end child marriages, not only in Ghana or Africa but globally. Statistics Globally, 15,000,000 girls are married before their 18th birthday. In fact, every minute, 28 girls get married, and in every second, one girl gets married. It is also anticipated that 150 million more girls will be married by 2030 if efforts to curb the trend are not intensified. In Ghana alone, one in five girls aged 20 to 24 years is married before the age of 18. Regional data from the 2014 Demographic Health Survey revealed that regions of the north recorded 39.6 per cent of child marriages, the Upper West Region recorded 37.3 per cent, the Upper East 36.1 per cent, Eastern Region 27.5 per cent, Western Region 32.9 per cent, Central Region 29.5 per cent, Ashanti Region 25.9 per cent, Volta Region 25.9 per cent, Brong Ahafo Region 23.9 per cent, and Greater Accra Region 18.5 per cent. Child Protection Act The 1992 constitution of Ghana prohibits any person under the age of 18 from marrying or being given in marriage. The Children Act 1998 (Act 560), amended as the Children Act 937 (2016), stipulates also that no person shall force a child to be betrothed, subject to a dowry transaction, or married. Governments worldwide are working towards ending child marriage by 2030 under the Sustainable Development Goal, with target 5.3 which specifically aims to eliminate all harmful practices such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation. There is therefore an urgent need to expedite these efforts in the remaining seven years as the clock ticks to 2030. Interventions and Beneficiaries The UNFPA is supporting its partners in Ghana for the third phase of the Global Programme to end child marriage. As part of that, regional interventions in the Upper East Region involve collaboration between the Regional Coordinating Council and the Department of Gender is working closely with some ambassadors in six districts, including the Builsa South District, Kassena Nankana West District, Talensi District, Nabdam District, Bongo, and Bawku West Districts. These efforts focus on engaging men and boys as ambassadors to encourage each other to end child marriage. Ms. Yvonne Wonchua, Assistant Director of the Upper East Regional Coordinating Council, noted that child marriage in the Upper East has evolved from betrothing a girl to a man for marriage to pregnancy-induced child marriages. She emphasized that once a girl becomes pregnant, cultural norms often push her to marry the man who impregnated her. The male advocacy network in the region works with community members, Assembly members, traditional authorities, and religious leaders to educate them about child marriage, gender-based violence, and the consequences of these practices. Mr. James Twene, Upper East Regional Director of the Department of Gender, discussed the interventions in the region, highlighting the formation of men’s and boys’ advocacy clubs in six districts. These clubs have been trained to address child marriages and gender-based violence in communities. The focus is on training men and boys to understand basic gender concepts and recognize child marriage as a crime with severe consequences. The programme also emphasizes how to respond to child marriage cases when they arise in communities. For communication and reporting on rising child marriage cases, a social media platform has been created for stakeholders to share emerging issues. Traditional authorities, as custodians of culture, are also being empowered to address child marriages, and workshops and engagements are organized to help them address the problem. As the fight against child marriage continues, it is crucial to collaborate with existing structures, leadership, and stakeholders such as chiefs, opinion leaders, and assembly members. This collaborative approach is essential to prevent child marriage effectively. Mr. Twene noted that strong networks within the districts are key to addressing child marriage. However, more districts should be covered to reach every part of the region. Currently, a total of 720 men and boys in the six districts have had their capacity built, and a Parent Advocacy Movement (PAM) has been created to engage parents, particularly women, to support their adolescent children. Recommendations The current UNFPA-supported intervention programmes in six districts should be extended to cover all districts. Traditional authorities, who have significant decision-making roles in their communities, should also be supported to curtail child marriages. The Department of Gender should receive support to upscale its intervention efforts to reach districts that have not yet been covered. This unified approach is vital to eliminating gender-based violence and early marriages, as emphasized in the Sustainable Development Goal, target 5.3. Role of Media and Communication Advocacy Network (MCAN) The media plays a significant role in promoting health and social development. MCAN is working with partners to advocate against child marriage in Ghana.

Source: Ghana News Agency