Africa should step up war against child marriage, says AU

There is need for African countries to enhance access to justice among women if the fight against child marriage is to yield desirable results, says African Union (AU) ambassador for ending child marriage Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda

Ms Gumbonzvanda said that lack of proper judicial systems able to deal with perpetrators of child marriage and GBV had hampered the progress in soliciting for an end to child marriage.

This had left the continent in serious economic problems as girls were forced into marriages, thereby making them less productive.

Ms. Gumbonzvanda was speaking in Lusaka  yesterday at the on-going first African Girls’ Summit whose theme is “Ending Child Marriage” at the Government Complex.

She said the legal system in Africa was disadvantaging women as most of them could not manage to seek legal redress because of legal systems which were not user-friendly.

“We are happy to our leaders in Africa for their political will in ending child marriage but it is unacceptable that 76 per cent of our women get married before they attain 18 years of age.

“We are even legalizing the crime perpetrated by men who abuse our girls by saying child marriage when it is child abuse,” she said

“The lack of proper judicial atmosphere conducive to women has compounded the problem of child marriages. These girls who are getting married are not getting married to boys but men.

‘‘Where are these men who are abusing our children? What are courts doing to make sure that these men are caged for their crimes against the the girl child?” Ms. Gumbonzvanda asked.

She also noted that it was important for governments to ensure that all girls had access to education so as to keep them away from the scourge.

“We need our girls to attain good education; education beyond just knowing how to read and write.

“We want our girls to complete their education and then get economic empowerment by finding relevant jobs and entrepreneurship skill. Education is very important because it will help our girls to come out of this bondage.

“Parents should realise that marrying off their daughter will not solve their poverty because two heads of cattle can never make them rich. Let us allow the girls to go to school so that they do not become a target for early marriage,” she said.

And media personality Omotola Jalade has observed that the barrier of access to information has exacerbated child marriage and Gender-Based Violence (GBV) among African communities.

Meanwhile, Chief Chikumbi of Malawi has noted that traditional leaders played an important role in ensuring that girls were not exploited.

She said that her country had done a lot in the fight to end child marriages by introducing the re-entry school programme for girls to continue with their education after falling pregnant.