Never take advantage of people who need your help. It’s never right! The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life”
Violence against women and girls is one of the most rampant human rights violations in the world. It knows no social, economic or national boundaries. Worldwide, an estimated one in three women will experience physical or sexual abuse in her lifetime according to data put forward by UNICEF. Gender-based violence (GBV) undermines the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims, yet it remains masked in a culture of silence and denial. Gender-based violence can happen in both the private and public spheres and it affects women disproportionately. Let’s have a conversation about it.
Gender-based violence can be sexual, physical, verbal, psychological (emotional), or socio-economic and it can take many forms, from verbal violence and hate speech on the Internet, to rape or murder. It can be perpetrated by anyone: a current or former spouse/partner, a family member, a colleague from work, schoolmates, friends, an unknown person, or people who act on behalf of cultural, religious, state, or intra-state institutions, so be agile. Gender-based violence, as with any type of violence, is an issue involving relations of power. It is based on a feeling of superiority, and an intention to assert that superiority in the family, at school, at work, in the community or in society as a whole.
To help change the narrative on Gender Based Violence (GBV), Civil Society Organizations (CSO) and networks have been working globally in several areas to curb the situation. The international hybrid CSO network capacity building workshop on advocacy to end GBV and child marriage ended successfully with a call to end child marriage in Ghana now.
This conference with participants joining from Ghana, Nigeria, Gambia, Senegal and Liberia was implemented by ProHumane Afrique International and the development Research Projects Centers (dRPC) from Nigeria with funding from the Ford Foundations West Africa office under its BUILD project. GBV project implementation tackles the issues in these areas; rape, sexual harassment, domestic violence, child marriage, intimate partner violence, family planning, trafficking in persons, women’s rights issues, girls’ education, violations against displaced women and girls and many more.
We may be aware of issues of rape, sexual harassment, domestic violence, child trafficking, intimate partner violence but may not be fully aware and well informed about how many children ends up in child marriage. Child marriage situation sees children give birth themselves to other children. How can a child take care of another child? Child marriage issues are globally affecting the world’s progress to attaining the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s).
Child marriage directly hinders the achievement of at least six of the (SDGs) that is why we must work together to change the narrative and create a world we want. Child marriage looks different from one community to the next, to end it; we must all work together. Solutions must be local, contextual and integrated. Main reason, you need to be well informed about the subject matter. Once you are aware, you become empowered to provide support.
According to the Ghanaian constitution of 1992, any person under the age of 18 is a child and can therefore not marry or be married off. This is underscored by the 1998 Children’s Act, which sets the legal age of marriage for both boys and girls. Child marriage is any formal marriage or informal union where one or both parties are under 18 years of age. It is rooted in gender inequality. Girls, who formally marry or cohabit as if married before the age of 18 are more likely to have early pregnancies, experience dangerous complications in pregnancy and childbirth, acquire HIV, and experience domestic violence.
Ending child marriage will improve the health of millions of girls, and their children. According to UNICEF, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18 each year, that is 23 girls every minute and nearly 1 every 3 seconds. Do we want girls or brides? More than 650 million women alive today already suffer the direct consequences of child marriage. Globally, the rates of child marriage are slowly declining but progress isn’t happening fast enough until the covid-19 pandemic introduced its own dynamics to the situation.
If pre-pandemic trends continue, 150 million more girls will be married by 2030. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this may increase by a further 13 million girls if nothing is done about the issue. That is why you need to understand why we all need to work together to keep our girls in school as girls and not brides.
Ending child marriage is necessary and it must be now, this is because child marriage violates girls’ rights to health, education and opportunity. When girls marry as children, they miss out on developing the skills, knowledge and confidence they need to make informed decisions, negotiate, access paid employment and live independent lives. With little access to education and economic opportunities, girls and their families are more likely to live in poverty.
Systems that undervalue the contribution and participation of girls and women limit their own possibilities for growth, stability and transformation. Ending child marriage and guaranteeing girls’ rights means a fairer, more secure and prosperous future for us all.
The harmful traditional practice of child marriage persists worldwide. In developing countries, more than 30 percent of girls are married before the age of 18, and 14 percent before they are 15. Defined as a customary, religious or legal marriage of anyone under 18, child marriage occurs before the girl is physically and psychologically ready for the responsibilities of marriage and childbearing. It therefore has major consequences for public health, national security, social development, human rights, economic development and gender equality. This is the reason we need to end it now!
According to data released by UNICEF, 12 million girls worldwide marry before their 18th birthday that is 28 girls getting married every minute and nearly one girl getting married in every 3 seconds. Whilst South Asia records the largest number of child brides, the numbers in sub-Saharan Africa are equally alarming. If nothing is done to stem the worrying trends in this area, it is estimated that the number of child brides in Sub-Saharan Africa could double by 2050. In effect, sub-Saharan Africa will overtake South Asia to become the region with the largest number of child brides in the world.
The driving factors behind Child Marriage in Ghana are complex and interrelated, the dominant factors identified includes: poor parenting, ignorance, impunity, poor enforcement of the law not lack of nor availability of enacted laws but poor enforcement of the laws, deeply rooted gender inequalities, teenage pregnancy, economic insecurity, traditional, customary practices and social norms and peer pressure. There is a correlation between teenage pregnancy and increase in gender based violence with focus on ending child marriage cases. To end child marriage, teenage pregnancy as a driver to child marriage must be addressed.
More than half a million teenagers are on record to have gotten pregnant over the last five years, data from the Ghana Health Service District Health Information Management Health System (DHIMS) reveals. Between 2016 and 2020, about 555,575 teenagers aged 10 to 19 years, are said to have gotten pregnant. Within the five years, 13,444 teenagers between the ages of 10 and 14 got pregnant, while some 542,131 teenagers aged 15 to 19 years got pregnant. On average, a little over 112,800 teenagers get pregnant annually.
International conventions and treaties combined with national laws and policies provide a powerful normative statement on child marriage as a violation of a child’s rights. At the International level, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) all directly or indirectly address the issue of Child Marriage. For example, the UDHR provides for the right to ‘free and full’ consent to a marriage but notes that consent cannot be ‘free and full’ when one of the parties involved is not sufficiently mature to make an informed decision about a life partner.
Child marriage is illegal in Ghana, why because the 1992 Constitution and the Children’s Act 1998 (Act 560) set the legal age for marriage at 18 for both girls and boys. Section 14 (1) (a) (b) and (c) of the Children’s Act also provides that: “No person ( to include a pastor, a priest, an Imam or opinion leader, etc) shall force a child to be betrothed; to be the subject of a dowry transaction; or to be married… any person who contravenes this provision commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding 5 million cedis or to a term of imprisonment not exceeding one year or both”.
The controversy begins with the same law. According to the Criminal Offences Act 1960 (Act 29), sex with a child under 16 years is defined as an offence which shall be liable to imprisonment for a term of not less than seven years and not more than twenty-five years. If, the minimum age for marriage is 18years as enshrined in the Children’s Act 1998 (Act 560) section 14(2) in Ghana why should another law contradict that stance? By inference, we are offering that a 16-year-old boy or girl is too young to marry and must marry after age 18 years, but is not too young to have sex. How?
These aspects of the law have left a gap between these two child legislations and must be addressed by legislature. That is why a proposed increase of the age of consent to sex from 16 to 18 will support the reproductive justice for both boys and girls. As a good advocacy message, it will be a welcome news to increase the age of sexual consent to match the minimum age for marriage as this will protect adolescents from abuse and from consequences they may not be fully aware of when engaging in sexual activity. The inconsistency between the age of sexual consent in the Criminal Offences Act and the age of marital consent in the Children’s Act presents a social and legal challenge.
We can change the narrative on Gender Based Violence. Let’s do that by working together to eradicate violence against women and girls around the world. Become an ambassador your own by knowing the facts and educating your peers. I use this opportunity to call upon all people of goodwill, social clubs, associations, churches and institutions to support the advocacy to ending gender based violence and child marriage in Ghana and in the sub-region now. Civil societies are doing a lot, support their efforts and channel your corporate social responsibility giving’s to creating more awareness on GBV and support to ending child marriage situations in Ghana now.
Baptista is a Hybrid Professional and the Executive Director of ProHumane Afrique International.
ProHumane is a charitable, development & think thank organization working You can reach her via e-mail on [email protected] and follow this conversation on all our social media sites: Linked-In/ Twitter/ Facebook/ Instagram: ProHumane Afrique International. Call or WhatsApp: +233(0)262213313. Hashtag: #behumane #thegivingcapsules #prohumaneafriqueint #fowc