Statement by IHRDA
The theme of this year’s edition of the Day of the African Child is: “25 years after the Adoption of the African Children’s Charter: Accelerating our Collective Efforts to End Child Marriage in Africa”.
Since its adoption in 199o, 47 countries have ratified the African Children’s Charter, while 7 have not.
This year’s ‘Day of the African Child’ is unique in that it coincides with the 25th Anniversary of the adoption of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, which is the only regional instrument on the protection and advancement of children’s rights in Africa.
Child marriage is a rampant phenomenon plaguing the welfare and development of children in most African countries. According to the International Centre for Research on Women (http://www.icrw.org/child-marriage-facts-and-figures), 15 African countries featured amongst the first 20 in the world in the ranking of the percentage of women between the ages of 20 and 24 who were married before the age of 18 by 2013. Niger, Chad and Central African Republic topped the list of hotspots for child marriage in the continent and the world, whereby at least two-third (2/3) of women in the above age groups were given into marriage below the age of 18. In other countries like Guinea, Mozambique, Mali, Burkina Faso, South Sudan and Malawi, at least 50% of women in the same age group had gone into matrimony below the age of 18 years.
Key factors that have often buttressed on the prevalence of child marriage in Africa include poverty, under-education amongst especially girls, and religion.
This phenomenon has strong nefarious effects on the girl child. The International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW) holds that:
- Girls younger than 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s.
- Pregnancy is consistently among the leading causes of death for girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide.
- Child brides face a higher risk of contracting HIV because they often marry an older man with more sexual experience.
- Girls aged 15 – 19 are 2 to 6 times more likely to contract HIV than boys of the same age in sub-Saharan Africa.
- Girls who marry before 18 are more likely to experience domestic violence than their peers who marry later.
- Child brides often show signs symptomatic of sexual abuse and post-traumatic stress such as feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and severe depression.
Child marriage violates all four cardinal principles of child rights and a number of rights embedded in the Charter.
IHRDA joins the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child to commemorate this Day of the African Child and to push forth the regional (and global) agenda for children.
We call on state parties to fulfill their obligations under the Charter and urge those that have not ratified it to do so. We urge States to take apt measures to eliminate such practices that affect the welfare, dignity, normal growth and development of the child by putting in place legislation that set the minimum age for marriage at 18 and regulatory mechanisms to ensure that it is respected.
Educating adolescent girls helps significantly to minimize the prevalence of child marriage. We therefore call on States to put in place measures that help to facilitate, encourage improve girls’ access to, and level of, education.
We call on Civil Society actors to reinforce sensitization, lobbying and advocacy actions that aim to advance the cause for children.
As the theme for this year’s Day of the African Child demands, we urge states, institutions, families and individuals, to seek to add value to our children; accelerate efforts to eliminate child marriage; and uphold the principles of the African Children’s Charter.