The first-ever African girls’ summit on ending child marriage on the continent concluded with recommendations that all African Union (AU) member states should adopt and enforce legislation that sets the minimum age of marriage at 18.
In addition, the summit also recommended the adoption and enforcement of legislation that effectively prohibits, prevents, punishes and redresses child marriage, including the cross-border movement of girls for marriage purposes.
Presenting the recommendations to all AU member states at the closing ceremony, South Africa’s First Lady Tobeka Zuma said AU member states have a duty to invest in initiatives that empower all girls, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable, to equip them with skills and information, as well as to create safe spaces and support networks necessary for a productive life.
It was also recommended that AU member states ensure that ending child marriage remains high on the political agenda at global, continental, regional and national levels through a multi-sectoral approach, including health, education, employment and legal services.
“In line with AU Agenda 2063 and the Sustainable Development Goals, African member states should monitor progress towards all continental and national commitments relating to ending child marriage, harmful traditional practices, and the empowerment and participation of women and girls,” Zuma said.
Zambia’s Minister of Gender and Child Development, Professor Nkandu Luo, said at the closing ceremony that everyone who took part in the summit should go out and implement the recommendations in order to end child marriages on the continent, as well as to protect the rights of children.
The summit convened in Lusaka, Zambia, on Thursday and Friday. Heads of state and governments, ministers in charge of gender and traditional affairs, as well as children, first ladies, United Nations (UN) agencies, development partners, civil society organisations, young people, and religious and traditional leaders gathered to take stock of the progress made in ending child marriage across Africa, to identify challenges and share experiences.
The gathering coincided with the release of a new report by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), that reveals if current trends hold and Africa’s population continues to grow at its expected rate, the number of child brides in Africa will more than double in the next 35 years, to 310 million married girls.
In a speech delivered on behalf of UN Population Fund (UNFPA) executive director Dr Babatunde Osotimehin, the UNFPA director for East and Southern Africa, Dr Julitta Onabanjo said the summit underscored that a safe and successful passage from adolescence into adulthood is the right of every young person in Africa and for every young person anywhere in the world.
“Unfortunately, we have seen through our deliberations that this is a right that has not been fulfilled for all young people, and particularly for all adolescent girls,” said Onabanjo.
She added that it is “totally unacceptable” that one in three girls in low and middle income countries are married off before the age of 18 and one in nine by the age of 15.
“In the course of this year alone, about 14.2 million girls will become child brides,” said Onabanjo.
AU chairperson Nkosozana Dlamini Zuma said cultural norms that undervalue girls and women are largely to blame. “Child marriage generates norms that have become increasingly difficult to exterminate, norms that undermine the value of women. Through greater awareness, teamed with a collaborative approach, the crippling effects of child marriage can be eradicated,” she said.