Sexual and gender based violence is a cancer in my community which has ravished homes and destroyed families. It takes on many forms including child-marriage which mostly affects girls, because of their vulnerability, and leads to violation of their human rights. Child-marriage is not only in my community but in many other communities in Africa with its negative consequences going beyond the child brides themselves but also to their children and the development and prosperity of a nation. What makes this cancer worse is that it is fueled by the culture of silence, culture of denial, blame and male dominance.
I have a passion for the family unit because I see it as the cornerstone of society. Strong family units generate wholesome children who in themselves become wholesome members of society. Where then is the family unit and our communities getting it all wrong if we have to constantly battle child marriages? Where then are our girls supposed to run to for safety and support?
When I was young I remember asking, on different occasions, about some girls I would no longer see in my community or at church. The response I got was always that they had been married. I remember asking about a particular girl at my church who used to learn and was friends with my older sister in primary school and being told that she had gotten married to a certain pastor who was part of our church in the rural areas. She was 16 years old. Back then I did not see anything wrong with that and I’m sure many girls didn’t either. At church we would be taught that for a woman, marriage was the ultimate achievement and so for those who were married earlier it was taken as great fortune. These marriages were celebrated.
Nowadays, however, we have legislation prohibiting the marriage or marrying off of a child below the age of 18. Despite this though, girls are being married off and communities sometimes turning a blind eye, watching from a distant and keeping silent because “people should not get involved in other people’s business”.
Cases of child marriage are also not taken seriously sometimes. Young girls are being raped and their families give them the option to marry as a solution. Is rape a cause for child marriage? Where is family support when this happens? Law enforcement agencies sometimes label the girl(s) as the cause of what happened to her when she reports the matter. These marriages lead to abrupt transitioning in the girls’ lives into adult roles which they are not prepared for and no one gives thought to the trauma of child marriage these girls face.
Though many countries in Africa now have legislation against child marriage and even though there have been collective efforts around the world to fight child marriage it is still unfortunately happening thus we cannot afford to stop talking about it. Ending child-marriage is the right and smart thing to do. It is our individual and collective responsibility to make sure that we protect our girls. Let us give our girls the opportunity to go to school, live their childhoods to the fullest without violence, choose careers for themselves, whom to marry and when. Let us invest in good parent-child relationships as they are key in bridging the gap on realities of marriage and the fight against child marriage. This is everyone’s fight. Do not wait until it happens to a girl in your household for you to receive a wakeup call of the gravity of this cancer. If you see child-marriage happening in your community, do something about it. Do not be silent. ACT! You and I make change happen. Let us give our girls a chance and an opportunity to be what and whom they want to be. They are the leaders of tomorrow.
Today, #choosetochallenge child marriage.