Picture a small girl, not more than 13-years-old. The last thing that would come to your mind is this child being a mother or a wife. You’d expect a 13-year-old, or younger girl, to be playing with dolls, not managing a household. The thought of it alone is appalling and very unpleasant.
Yet, there are married 13-year-olds throughout Africa, raising children, taking care of their husband’s needs, and handling all domestic responsibilities. In the Somali community where I come from, child marriage is almost a cultural norm, especially in rural areas, and it mostly adversely affects the young girls.
There are many factors that fuel child marriage. These include poverty, illiteracy, gender inequality, culture and among others. Marriage in our society is considered as the only way for a girl to be socially accepted and respected. For the girl’s mother, it is seen as “a symbol of respect” whereby everyone praises her for what is considered as a good intention and action.
Another reason girls tend to get married is that they believe in the ideology that marriage is everything. For these girls, marriage is an escape from reality, poverty and inequality. However, these marriages are usually done for the wrong reasons, mainly financial constraints; many parents think that the dowry they received for their daughter’s hand in marriage will relieve them of their financial problems. It is almost as if they’re sell their child to the highest bidder. For these communities, a girl is deemed worthless from birth.
Ending child marriage requires joined effort from all sectors and stakeholders. We must be committed to ending this act that violates the right of children. Education is one of the keys to bring this nightmare to an end. Through it, the illiteracy level will decrease. People will value education even more. Free education should be provided to enable to counter child marriage. Programs such as counseling, early marriage, and good menstrual hygiene practices should be introduced in the syllabus so that kids have a better understanding of such issues. These will enable children to talk about it openly.
Schools should empower both girls and boys by nurturing their talents and creating awareness of self-improvement. This way, girls will have confidence and it’ll reduce the mentality that her only place is in the kitchen. The boys too would be mobilized, hence increasing male engagement on this issue.
Community leaders should spread awareness within their locality. Other ways to reach out to communities include the use of media platforms such as mobile campaigns and radio talk shows to create more awareness. Furthermore, SMS codes should be created, to allow potential victims a way to reach out for help, advice, or support. This will create a safe space for both survivors and victims to share their stories and opinions about child marriage openly.
Lastly, implementing laws and policies that hinder early child marriage will send a warning to anyone trying to engage in such acts.
We can shape our future by joining hands together and taking accountability to fulfill our children needs. Lastly and most importantly, letting children be children.