What will it take to end child marriage in Botswana?
Child marriages, or marriages of girls younger than 18 years old, are prevalent in Botswana, mostly in marginalized communities which therefore go undocumented. These cases often result in health complications due to sexual exploitation like contraction of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, as well as teenage pregnancies.
Emphasis on the importance of exposure through education must take priority. Everyone has the right to free education from primary to tertiary level, although due to religious or traditional beliefs some are denied that right. Education broadens a child’s mind to different worlds to the one they are used to.
Information enlightens people, especially women and girls, to recognize manipulative traditions that oppress them. You cannot fix what you do not perceive to be broken. In addition, we need paradigm shift through education. Changing mindsets requires years of investment before tangible results manifest. We can achieve this through the school system, empowering both the girl and boy child on gender equality and the dangers of child marriage.
To reach the wider society, we should raise awareness through social media, radio and television, which cut across age groups. With the recent commitment by the government to support the film and television industry, productions discouraging child marriage should be incorporated with the intent of sparking open conversations on the topic. Storytelling that accurately represents girls as smart, strong and equally capable should be the norm on our television screens.
As a nation that is ravaged by the unemployment and under-employment scourge, we need radical economic empowerment plans targeted at instilling entrepreneurial culture and creating sustainable jobs to alleviate poverty. Not only should each person have equal opportunity to quality employment, we should also have access to equal resources, such as ownership of land.
In addition, political positions should be gender balanced. So far, the political space has been heavily male-dominated. If women were given an equal chance, they would be in a better position to protect the girl child since they better relate while fighting to elevate and empower other women. In a society such as ours, men mostly make the final decisions concerning marriages, while women are rendered powerless on issues concerning their children. Empowered women equal empowered families. When families are economically stable and empowered, it reduces the pressure of marrying off daughters to ease the burden of provision, and gives women and girls the confidence to fight unlawful child marriage.
Lastly, we should work together to expose such cases and enforce the law. Since in most cases it is girls being married to older men, the practice is deeply embedded on enabling patriarchal systems that benefit men while disempowering girls. Toxic masculinity that teaches males that they are superior, smarter and entitled to females should be dismantled and unlearned. Girls and boys are equally worthy of respect and our constitutional rights.
It is everyone’s responsibility to protect children. Let children be children and have a fair chance to education, good health and overall decent lives.