Every girl has dreams of meeting the right man, falling in love and settling down. In many parts of Africa, this expectation of girls is never met. Girls are carted away to the highest bidder. They become mere commodities to be traded. The girls will never know true love as their mothers never did. Who can explain what it is to feel loved and special? Did their mothers know love? No! They are a long generation of women who were all forced into marriage.
The girl’s opinion about who to marry is never sought. Today she is just a girl playing with her peers. The next day, she is in a man’s house performing the full duties of a wife. This concept is known as child marriage.
What is Child Marriage?
Child marriage connotes both formal and informal unions where a girl lives with a partner before age of 18. It occurs before the girl is physically, physiologically, and psychologically ready to shoulder the responsibilities of marriage and childbearing. While Child marriage is discouraged in the developed world, it has remained a norm in Africa. Overall, 20-50 percent of women in developing countries marry by the age of 18. The highest incidences are found in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
Why Child Marriage still subsists?
There are a number of reasons why people still practice child marriages. Child marriage stems from the need for economic survival and sociocultural values.
Poverty is one of the major factors underpinning early marriage. In families with low socio-economic status, a girl is regarded as an economic burden. One less daughter is one less mouth to feed. Parents may encourage the marriage of their daughters while they are still children. They hope that the marriage will benefit them both financially and socially. They want to relieve financial burdens on the family. The marriage to a much older – sometimes even elderly – man is practice common in some societies. If the suitor has high social value, the girl’s family also gets some recognition. If the suitor is wealthy, the girl’s family will demand a high bride price. In traditional societies in Sub-Saharan Africa, the bride’s family may receive cattle from the suitor as bride price.
Sociocultural values promote early marriages in societies where early marriage is prevalent. There is strong social pressure on families to conform. Defaulting families are subjected to ridicule, disapproval or family shame. Invariably, communities determine ideal age for marriage against the girl’s desires. There is also the desire for submissive wives; leading to girls forced into homes as wives. Extended family patterns and other customary requirements are enshrined in local customs or religious norms. In many contexts child marriage is legitimized by patriarchy, and related family structures. In this system, a father’s role over his girl child is transferred to her future spouse.
The marriage or betrothal of children in parts of Africa and Asian is valued as a means of consolidating powerful relations between families. The locals find it useful in sealing deals over land or other property, or even for settling disputes.
Girls are people who have human rights as all people do. Many cultures do not accord them any rights. The assumption that what is good for the parents should be good for the child is erroneous. Girls are faced by more serious issues than marriage. Should child marriages end? Yes it has to. Who has a role to play? Churches, community leaders, women groups, social groups, community based organizations and the government. Concerted efforts of all stakeholders is important if this menace will be scrapped. We can change the narrative and bring this terrible practice to an end. Do you think so too?