Role of Education In Ending FGM and child marriages in Africa


06 Jan 2016 | by
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Role of Education In Ending  FGM  and child marriages in Africa

As the debate on access to education and the inequalities that school fees is creating among our children, as a country we must pause and think about the 4 out of 10 girls in Kenya who are married off before they reach the age of 18.

At the recently concluded Africa Union (AU) Girl Summit on ending child marriage in Lusaka,Zambia, the largest call was for young people to be the catalyst that will eventually end Female Genital Mutilation and therefore marriages of persons below 18 through education. In December alone we had reports of more than 1200 forced or coerced into undergoing this harmful practice that almost automatically means they will not continue with education and they will be married off before the courts can resolve the dispute between parents and head teachers over the school fees debate.

With more than 3,000 participants from all over the world, most from the African continent, this was the first time the Girl Summit was being held in Africa. The first ever girl summit was held in London in July 2014.

The AU together with a range of partners launched the African Union Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa on 29 May 2014. The campaign is focused on accelerating change across the continent by encouraging African governments to develop strategies to raise awareness of and address the harmful impact of child marriage as well as expediting and invigorating the movement to end child marriage by: (i) supporting policy action in the protection and promotion of human rights, especially with a view to addressing violence against girls and women and promoting gender equitable social norms (ii) mobilizing continental awareness of and engagement to end child marriage and (iii) removing barriers and bottlenecks to law enforcement.

Most countries have signed the Africa charter on human and people’s rights and some have great policies like Kenya with 2015 Adolescent Sexual Reproductive Health policy but implementation has always been the challenge.

While the summit was about accelerating the campaign on ending child marriage, emphasis was placed on the harmful traditional practices like, FGM that help perpetuate and initiate children into marriages.

Girls and women have the right to live free from violence and discrimination and achieve their potential but are prevented due to being forced into child marriage and this harmful practice has devastating effects on the girl-child and the society. It was noted that FGM is a conduit to early marriages with one of the leading  causes of maternal mortality and morbidity for girls age 15 to 19 being  pregnancy and childbirth.

Part of the conversation at the summit also included the fact that the language of calling child abduction and abuse as child marriage was unacceptable. “After all how does a 12 year old negotiate marriage. These are children. Let’s call out the practice for what it is sexual violence and abuse of children” said the AU’s good will ambassador on ending child marriage, Ms Nyaradzai Gumbo.

” We have been more successful with eradicating HIV on the continent than FGM and its time we focused our efforts there because the practice perpetuates a culture of  gender based violence that leaves girls and women vulnerable to HIV” said a participant.

Sheikh Ibrahim Lithome from SUPKEM Kenya also noted that  religious leaders should not be hiding behind religion to perpetuate violence against women because no religion preaches harming of girls and women. One of the interesting  part of the summit was the fact that traditional chiefs who are custodians of culture were also part of the meeting sharing experiences of the bylaws in the villages

The meeting ended with a common position to end child marriage with one of the actions being to implement appropriate legislation and policies that effectively prohibit, prevent, punish and redresses child marriage including cross-border movement of girls for child marriages among others but most importantly ensure education for all young people.

While such a summit is critical in shining the spotlight on issues that affect especially adolescents, it is important to now move from rhetoric to action.

Dr Terent from Zambia who had been married off by age 15 spoke on behalf of girls who had survived child marriage said that “ as much as the summit was an opportunity to talk and find solutions, the talk will be cheap if education is not a priority’. “ We can talk all we want but without education the children will still get married’

She said that the only weapon she knows that can help an adolescent girl in Africa is an education.  . An education will help a girl make choices about her sexuality, they will help her choose her career, resist harmful practices like FGM and therefore thrive.

Let us spare a thought to those 15 year olds who have been made wives in the name of culture and do something about the inequalities that exist in this country.

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