African Union’s campaign to end child marriage is applauded

The African Union’s first campaign against child marriages has been welcomed by United Nations agencies.

Seventeen million girls under 18 are forced into marriage each year. Nine of the 10 countries with the highest rates of early marriage are in Africa – and in sub-Saharan Africa 39% per cent of girls are married off before they turn 18.

That cuts short their childhood and stops girls from going to school, which has a devastating effect on their future opportunities. They are also subjected to violence, poverty and health risks.

The African Union announced a two-year campaign to end the practice, focusing on policies and awareness.

The organisation is working with African governments, UN agencies, the UK Department for International Development and charities such as Plan International and Save The Children.

Martin Mogwanja, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, said: “This push led by Africans for Africans must not stop until every girl in every family and every community has the right to reach her 18th birthday before getting married.”

The African countries with the highest child marriage rates are Niger (75%), Chad and Central African Republic (68%), Guinea (63%), Mozambique (56%), Mali (55%), Burkina Faso and South Sudan (52%) and Malawi (50%).

Barira, now 17, ran away after being married to an abusive man in Niger at the age of 15.

She said: “It was a forced marriage, and I suffered a lot. For no reason he was threatening me every time I opened my mouth.

“I ran. I met people on the road who brought me back to my parents. They wanted me to go back and live with him but I refused. They insisted, arguing that he was a member of the family and that I was not in a position to say no.

“I couldn’t accept because he was hitting me… It was a lot of suffering.”

Activist, artist and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Angelique Kidjo said: “I want to applaud the African Union that just launched a campaign to get rid of child marriage – a campaign led by Africans for Africans.

“We now need to take this message to every village and every family where people need to be convinced. Together we can make Africa free of child marriage.”