“Child molesters, pedophiles, and rapists should not be allowed to get away with lenient sentences such as community service. Child marriage is a tragedy for the girl child, her unborn children and her country’s development”
Harare, Zimbabwe, 31 July 2015 – “We have a crisis on our hands. The UN estimates that 15 million girls experience child marriage each year. That is more than the entire population of Zimbabwe. We must move from vulnerability to voice and leadership. Africa is young and full of innovation. This energy must be harnessed to ensure that we have lasting solutions”, said Ms. Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, the AU Goodwill Ambassador on Ending Child Marriage in Africa at the national launch of the AU Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa which held at the Harare International Conference Centre, under the theme “We are Girls, not Brides”.
Child marriage predominantly affects girls who live in poor and rural communities. The likelihood of girls being married off as children stems largely from the lack of education and poverty. Zimbabwe has one of the highest rates of child marriage in Africa; with about 31% of Zimbabwean girls being married before their 18th birthday and another 4% before they turn 15.
Speaking at the launch, His Excellency, Dr. Mustapha Sidiki Kaloko, the AU Commissioner for Social Affairs noted that the launch of the AU Campaign to End Child Marriage in Zimbabwe comes at a time when H.E. Cde Robert Mugabe is the sitting Chairperson of the African Union and furthers His Excellency’s commitment not just to the theme of the African Union for 2015, i.e. Year of Women Empowerment and Development towards Agenda 2063, but also to issues affecting women and girls across the continent. This has also been evidenced in the way His Excellency was able to galvanize other Heads of States into adopting the African Common Position on Ending Child Marriage during the June 2015 Assembly of AU Heads of State and Government.
The Republic of Zimbabwe is the 8th African Nation to launch the AU Campaign following national launches in Ethiopia, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar and Uganda. The Zimbabwean launch of the campaign also comes at a critical time when the country was recently under the global lens following a statement by Prosecutor-General Mr. Johannes Tomana on the age of sexual consent. This sparked a public outcry and accentuated the need for a nationwide campaign that tackles the harmful practice of child marriage with the focus of highlighting the consequences of allowing the perpetuation of the practice.In her keynote address, Dr. Grace Mugabe called on all Zimbabwean daughters to fight against the sentencing of girls to a lifetime of violation. She pleaded with girls not to be threatened into being married off but to strive for a better life; making education their first love.
The First Lady also called on the Ministry of Justice to harmonize all laws on the age of marriage to 18 years as stipulated by the Constitution and apply stiffer penalties and sentencing of violators. “Child molesters, pedophiles, and rapists should not be allowed to get away with lenient sentences such as community service.
Child marriage is a tragedy for the girl child, her unborn children and her country’s development”, she affirmed. Dr. Mugabe also received the petition of the child parliamentarians and called on all Cabinet Ministers to jointly work towards a national action plan on ending child marriage in Zimbabwe.
The event was attended by the Zimbabwean Senate President, Hon. Edna Madzongwe, the Speaker of Parliament, Hon. Advocate Jacob Mudenda, Members of Senate and Parliament, Cabinet Ministers who all joined their voices to call for an end to child marriages.
Speaking on behalf of the UN agencies, the Resident Coordinator and Country Director for UNICEF, Mr. Reza Hossani called on all stakeholders to reject social norms and break the cultural silence that continues to hide these violations of the rights of vulnerable children.
Child marriage is a significant cultural, political and public health issue on the African continent. Child marriage is defined as any legal or customary union involving a boy or girl below age 18. While it is prevalent throughout the world, it occurs with higher frequency in low-income countries in Africa and Southeast Asia.
The many drivers to child marriage include poverty, weakness in civil registration, discriminatory gender relations and cultural and religious norms. More than 700 million women worldwide will get married before age 18, with about one in three of these marrying before age 15.For more than 30 years, the HIV epidemic has been a top public health challenge in Africa.
More than 36.7 million people worldwide were living with HIV at the end of 2015, about 70% of these in Africa south of the Sahara. AIDS is now the number-one killer of adolescents in Africa. What is more worrying is that seven of every 10 new infections of HIV among adolescents are girls, which shows how vulnerable girls are to acquiring HIV. Similar socioeconomic factors drive both HIV and child marriage, but very few studies have shown the causal effects and links between the two.
“Removing barriers and bottlenecks to law enforcement will help protect and promote the human rights of girls and women”
Niamey, Niger, 12 December 2014 – “We have come to the realization that our determination towards a holistic approach to the rapid socio-economic development would not be achieved if we continue to under-estimate the role of our girls and women,” says His Excellency, Mr. Albade Abouba, the Minister of State for the President.
“Undoubtedly, child marriage is a harmful practice which severely affects the rights of a child and further deprives the child of attaining other aspirations like education. Niger has one of the highest rates of child marriage in Africa. The statistics are not in any way pleasant and needless for me to continue to highlight the terrible effect it has, not just on the girl child but on the entire society and our fast developing country,” he said at the occasion to mark the official launch of the African Union Campaign to End Child Marriage in the Republic of Niger, on 10 December, 2014, at the Hotel Gaweye in Niamey, Niger.
The Minister reaffirmed his government’s unwavering commitment to working with the African Union Commission and other development partners in ensuring the end of child marriage in Niger through policy action in the protection and promotion of human rights – especially that of girls and women, by removing barriers and bottlenecks to law enforcement, and ensuring that girl are enrolled as well as stay in school beyond primary level.
“Changing of attitudes based on culture and traditions is not easy but with the right leadership and political will, stimulating the needed change to go beyond policies and laws, to implementation involving stakeholders at the national and community levels will see our countries redefining the narrative of what is now seemingly referred to as the backward continent,” said the AUC Commissioner for Social Affairs, in a statement read on his behalf by Amb. Olawale Maiyegun. He informed of the African Union Commission’s commitment to its Member States in realizing their development agendas.
The AU Campaign to End Child Marriage launch in Niger represents a milestone event, not just for the country but for the continent where it is projected that if nothing is done in the next decade, 14.2 million girls under 18 years will be married every year, translating into 39,000 girls married each day. If this trend continues, the number of girls under 15 giving birth is expected to rise from 2 million to 3 million by 2030, in Africa.
The event was attended by the African Union Director of Social Affairs, Amb. Olawale Maiyegun, the Mayor of Niamey, cabinet ministers, UN agencies, civil society organizations, and survivors of child marriage who shared their experiences after being married off as child brides. There were also musical performances and drama sketches on child marriage by school children.
As part of activities around the launch, the AUC Director of Social Affairs met with Her Excellency, the First Lady of Niger, Dr Malika Issoufou. Impressed that Niger was finally launching the AU Campaign to End Child Marriage, she committed that as a follow up to the launch of the campaign in Niger, the Republic of Niger will host a conference to end child marriage with experts from countries with high prevalence of child marriage, partners and other key stakeholders from the 26th to 28th of November, 2015 for experience sharing and forging a way to accelerating an end to child marriage in Africa. She mentioned her continued support as a champion of the AU CARMMA campaign and expressed her gratitude to the African Union Commission for the support to the Ebola affected countries through the African Union Support to the Ebola Outbreak in West Africa (ASEOWA).