Beset by poverty or pressured by tradition, some parents in Burkina Faso do not think twice about marrying off their daughters when they are very young. In some instances also, the honor of the family is linked to a girl’s virginity. Parents therefore marry off girls long before they are ready to have sexual relations.
Although efforts to combat child marriage started a long time ago and much work has been done in this regard, the time has come to find solutions that can totally eradicate this scourge.
Leading by Example
One such solution could be to ask girls and women who have already received professional training in the context of the Sahel Women’s Empowerment and Demographic Dividend (SWEDD) project to commit to awareness-raising activities in their communities. They could meet regularly with village chiefs, religious leaders, local authorities, parents, and husbands to sensitize them to the rights of girls, the importance of their education, and the dangers associated with child marriage.
Their experience could serve as a positive tool to obtain buy-in from parents and husbands and as a model to be emulated.
Focusing on Agriculture
Several rural families in Burkina Faso rely on agriculture for their livelihoods. Providing agricultural training to young girls is another solution to the problem of child marriage. This would help families boost their income by allowing the girls in a household to learn skills and earn money. However, a parallel effort would be needed to solve the problem of low productivity faced by farmers. Burkina Faso, once the leading cotton producer in Africa, now ranks fourth in this area. This decline is largely attributable to parasite infestation, the poor quality of inputs, and inappropriate agricultural techniques. Young girls in the same village could set up cooperatives and benefit from the assistance of experts or a rural development agency to upgrade their agricultural production skills and adapt to climate events through the use of improved seeds and techniques.
Providing Training in High-Growth Occupations
Another solution that has already proven successful in many communities and merits development would be the provision of free training to underage girls or young adults who are already married, so that they can work in such strategic areas as health, energy, and digital technology and, in turn, be involved in shaping and shifting attitudes in their communities.
Education: An Indispensable Tool to Combat Child Marriage
Every young girl has a right to education. This cannot be overemphasized. I propose the inclusion of a new primary education subject in Burkina Faso—“BANGRE YA SOMAN” (“The Benefit of Knowledge”)—focused on raising the awareness of little girls and sharing information and holding discussions with them on their rights and independence. The goal is to prepare them psychologically and draw their attention to the issue of child marriage so that they can feel supported and have the courage to stand up to their parents, should this be necessary. This initiative will also raise the stature of little girls from childhood and allow them to grasp the fact that they offer great development potential to their communities and by pursuing their studies, they, like men, will be able to achieve great things.
Passing and Enforcing Laws
Lastly, this practice will not disappear without legal backing. However, several families are unaware of the fact that child marriage is prohibited or is a violation of the law. The widespread nature of this offense has normalized it. It is imperative to strengthen actual enforcement of the laws already in place and to sanction violators. Traditional chiefs and religious leaders should also be prohibited from performing child marriage ceremonies and all persons involved in violation of the law should face imprisonment—parents, the official responsible for performing the marriage ceremony, and the groom.
Contrary to the beliefs of many parents, child marriage traps their daughters and their future offspring in poverty from one generation to the next.
Eradicating this scourge is more than necessary to achieve sustainable development in Africa and the empowerment of women.