End child marriage: Teach Namibian girls they are more than mothers, caretakers or victims

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End child marriage: Teach Namibian girls they are more than mothers, caretakers or victims End child marriage: Teach Namibian girls they are more than mothers, caretakers or victims

“By the time I was 18, I was a mother of three in an abusive marriage.” -Tererai Trent, doctor, speaker, survivor

Child marriage is the practice of girls and boys under the age of 18 being married off. It refers to both formal marriages and informal unions.

Within the Namibian context, child marriage is largely perpetuated by cultural norms, religion and gender inequality. The girl child is, more often than not, on the short receiving end of the stick. Statistically having overall less access to education, young girls are significantly socio-politically disadvantaged, essentially making them more attractive targets of child marriage.

Olufuko is a festival in which Namibian girls of Aawambo ethnicity go through tribal rituals, with the aim of initiating them for marriage. Typically, the girls do not have a say about who gets to marry them. They usually come from families who are subjected to abject poverty and, as such, are uninformed about their right to sexual and social dignity. The festival is aimed at preparing girls as young as 12 for womanhood (that is, marriage, pregnancy and raising children.)

In the name of “upholding tradition,” these girls cannot reject Olufuko.

In other instances, young girls are married off to older, wealthy men who, in exchange, financially support the families of the girls. This is an informal cultural norm experienced by countless African girls.

Although an admittedly serious challenge, there are several effective ways that can be implemented to end child marriage in Namibia.

The primary and most effective solution, if carried out diligently, is to educate young girls, sensitizing them to the option of life beyond the confines of domestic life. To educate the girl child is to teach her that her humanity should not be reduced to merely that of wife, caretaker or victim.

Equally important, another effective solution would be to engage the parents, adults and wider community, bringing awareness of the detrimental socio-emotional consequences of child marriage.

Additionally, religious and traditional leaders have to be engaged as they have the social capital to potentially play a crucial role in advocating against child marriage.

Likewise, it is important to target young men, fathers and male figures. In so doing, men are taught that a social order which disregards the autonomous rights of women is detrimental to collective progress for us all. Consequently, men play a fundamental role in ending child marriages because involving them acknowledges that child marriage largely persists because they entertain it.

Gender inequality, religion and social norms are just a few of the countless factors which work against women and girls.

Their lives are often used as a means to an end to benefit the families of child brides. That is, child brides never really have a say to begin with.

It is worth pointing out that child marriage is not a social ill which is exclusive to girls. Girls are, however, the focus of this essay, as the degree to which they are victims of child marriage, is disproportionately higher.


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