Human Rights Watch has called on African governments to coordinate action to improve laws, education, health care and public awareness to end the scourge of child marriage. The call was made yesterday which was the International Human Rights Day.
The body said that forty percent of girls in sub-Saharan Africa marry before the age of 18, and African countries account for 15 of the 20 countries with the highest rates of child marriage.
According to Agnes Odhiambo, who is a senior Africa women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, “Government leaders across Africa often say the right things about child marriage, but have yet to produce the political commitment, resources, and on-the-ground help that could end this harmful practice,”
She also added that, at least 20 African countries allow girls to marry below the age of 18 through their minimum age laws or exceptions for parental consent or judicial approval. Weak enforcement has meant that there has been little impact even in countries that have established 18 as the minimum age of marriage for both boys and girls. Police may not have adequate training on dealing with these cases, do not see it as their job to prevent child marriages, or defer to the parents’ wishes.
While she asserted that, “Governments should set the minimum age of marriage at 18 and make sure it is fully enforced, including by training police and officials who issue marriage certificates,”
“Since government officials can’t bring about change alone, they should work with religious and community leaders who play an influential role in shaping social and cultural norms.”