Child marriage refers to any formal marriage or informal union between a person under the age of 18 and an adult. Child marriage impacts both girls and boys but girls are the most affected most especially in the northern parts of Uganda.
Research shows that Uganda has the highest number of early and forced marriages with 10% of the girls are married off by the age of 15 just before their 18th birthday. There are a number of reasons or causes of child marriage. So many communities live in, poverty, illiteracy, have rigid religious beliefs with intense social pressures. There is a fear of children remaining unmarried up to adulthood and a perception that women are unable to work for money. These, among many other reasons, cause child marriages in Uganda.
However, we can put an end to child marriage if we decide to work hand in hand with parents, community and religious leaders to at least try and do the following:
Educating the girls. Education plays a critical role in keeping girls safe from child marriage. In fact, the longer a girl stays in school, the less likely she is to be married off before the age 18 and have children during her teenage years.
In addition to that, education ensures girls acquire the skills and knowledge to find employment and a means to support their families. This can help break the cycle of poverty and prevent child marriages.
Empower both girls and boys. Every girl has the right to decide her own future, but not every girl knows this – that’s why empowering girls is so crucial to ending child marriage. Boys should also be empowered and sensitized about the importance of protecting girls. When both girls and boys are confident in their abilities, armed with knowledge of their rights and supported by peer groups, they are able to stand up and say “NO” to injustices like child marriage.
Providing families with livelihood opportunities like microfinance loans is an effective way to prevent child marriages that occur as a result of financial need. When families have increased economic opportunities, they’re less likely to perceive their daughters as economic burdens. This is especially true if a girl is in school gaining valuable skills that will help generate income in the future.
Petition the government and encourage supportive laws. In countries where child marriage is prevalent, petitioning government to increase the minimum age for marriage to 18 years is a critical first step for positive change. Once the minimum age is increased, it’s imperative to continue raising awareness of these laws among government officials and community leaders to ensure the laws are being enforced. Other legal policies, such as registering birth certificates and marriages, are powerful tools for preventing child marriage.
Rallying the wider community to stand up for girls rights. Parents and community leaders should be sensitized and educated about the dangers of and many negative consequences of child marriage. This can inspire them to change their views, speak up and fight for the rights of the girl child.
We should stand up and work together to fight child marriage and fight for the children’s rights, support them and give them the education, knowledge and skills they need to live and lead a happy life.
Rehema Musa Amelia.