Engaging men in the fight against child marriage

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We need to be fluid in our approach to eliminating child marriage, due to the number and nature of systems that nurture the practice. Patriarchy, is one such system.

Deeply rooted in the Ghanaian culture, patriarchy gives men influential roles in the legitimization of marriage. For example, at a typical Asante marriage, the head of the bride’s family, the "abusuapanyin," usually a male, invites the family of the groom to their house. The bride is then given away for marriage by her father, with approval from her maternal uncles and other older men in the family. The groom also gives a dowry, a "tiri nsa," which is a gift of drinks to her father, and an "akonta sekan," the gift of money to the girl’s brother in appreciation for protecting his wife. These are the major exchanges that denote the family’s consent to marriage, without which marriage is invalidated. Therefore, we would be fighting in futility if we all but engage the men who could potentially marry young girls, or give away their young daughters in marriage. How do we do that?

Let us start with the basics. At home, parents should divide house chores between boys and girls. This gives young boys the opportunity to acquire essential skills for survival, such as cooking, cleaning, etc., and reduces dependence on women for such tasks. In this day and age, no parent should be allowed to keep their girls at home while their boys are in school. That is totally unacceptable. Such parents must face the full rigors of the law. We need men to grow up in home environments where the girl child is supported. Men who do hardly desire young brides for themselves.

Next, we could set up reproductive health clubs for in and out of school adolescents. At such club meetings, child marriage and sexual abuse should be discussed openly. When young men hear stories of vulnerable girls who stopped schooling to be married off to wealthier old men, or were beaten up by these men when they refused sexual advances, they will be emboldened to speak up against child marriage in their families. I look forward to the day brothers of young brides will refuse the akontasekan in defiance. What a sight that would be!

Finally, advocacy efforts could target men’s interest in sports. Soccer, for example, is a big deal in Ghana. Thousands of men throng the stadium weekly to watch their favorite teams play. If the government could partner with local football clubs to have them advocate against child marriage, it would complement advocacy efforts greatly. We could have #EndChildMarriage printed boldly on all football jerseys, and the public discourse that would follow has enormous potential to influence perceptions about child marriage.

A recent report by the Ghana News Agency broke my heart. It said no girl has completed the Sawubea Junior High School in the last twenty-five years due to child marriage. This is our sad reality today but, it must not be the reality of our daughters or great-granddaughters.

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