Last week heads of African governments, ministers in charge of gender, United Nations agencies, development partners and other stakeholders convened in Lusaka, Zambia to share experiences and find lasting solutions to the problem of child marriages on the continent.
Child marriage, which was described throughout the summit as a violation of the rights of children, is such a problem that 76 percent of all girls worldwide have experienced child marriage, delegates heard.
New Era spoke to delegates from Namibia and Mozambique on the sidelines of the summit to understand how much of a problem child marriages are in various parts of the continent.
Fillemon Shuumbwa Nangolo, the senior traditional counsellor of the Aandonga Traditional Authority, said that some things discussed at the conference Namibia has already tackled – such as child marriage.
“That’s why we have the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare,” Nangolo said.
He added that traditional leaders in Namibia are fighting very hard to end child marriage.
“We are going to present a report of this conference at the annual meeting of traditional leaders next year September. It will be good if all chiefs know and understand this,” said Nangolo.
Nangolo added that child marriage is almost non-existent in his area of jurisdiction indicating that what sometimes occur however are elderly men impregnating young girls.
“But that is very rare,” maintained Nangolo.
“Let us say no to child marriage. It will help us to grow and see our children go for education like in other parts of the world.”
Brigitte Nshimyimana, a social worker in the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare in Namibia, said it is good to see what is happening in other African countries.
“Child marriage is something that you tackle together as stakeholders. People are emotional on the topic of child marriages in Africa. It shows that people understand the rights of children and they want to protect them,” said Nshimyimana. The fact that the conference was well attended showed that people understand and want to protect the rights of children, added Nshimyimana.
“We don’t have specific data on child marriages. But if you look at data on teenage pregnancies which are high in the Kavango regions, and data on child labour which is high in the Kunene region you would be able to tell how many children have been married off between the ages of 12 and 18,” said Nshimyimana.
She said there is a need to conduct a survey in the country to assess the extent of child marriage and in which regions it is prominent. “We think the Kunene and Kavango regions have incidences of child marriages,” Nshimyimana stressed.
“We have started the campaign through the media. But we now have to go down to the community to see what is happening there.”
Another delegate, Marcia Lucrecia Jeiambe of Mozambique, explained that child marriages happen mostly in rural areas where children drop out of school due to various difficulties. Although not as prevalent as gender-based violence, child marriages are real in some parts of Mozambique, said Jeiambe.
A contributing factor to this is an initiation ceremony attended primarily by girls living in rural areas. “Once a girl starts menstruation for the first time, she goes through the rites of initiation where she is taught how to become a woman. It doesn’t matter if the girl is ten years or 15 years, once she goes into her menstrual cycle she undergoes this ritual.”
The ceremony includes the young girls’ vulvas being rubbed with pleasant smelling oils for them to make sexual encounters with men appealing.
“Once the girls go through this they think they are ready for marriage and so do their parents, so there is a high school dropout rate along with teenage pregnancies,” explained Jeiambe.
The 22-year old Jeiambe who is the national coordinator of the Action for Girls initiative in Mozambique said the work she does involves inspiring young girls to pursue an education and hold on to thoughts of getting married until they are ready.
“We go into the communities in rural areas to find girls with vulnerabilities, such as school dropouts, abused girls and those who have gone through early marriages,” she explained.
Attending the First African Girls Summit on ending child marriage in Lusaka last week was an experience she would incorporate in her work back home, she noted.
“I have learnt the importance of involving all actors in the community to put an end to child marriage,” she says.
Religious leaders, traditional leaders, parents and all stakeholders are important players in fighting the problem of child marriage in Africa, she notes.
“In Africa, we have practices that make young girls victims of cultural practices and we had the opportunity to exchange experiences.”