Spero News

UN worries about marriage among underage girls
Friday, October 12, 2012
by Martin Barillas


A report from the Catholic Information Service for Africa (CISA), which is based in Kenya. contends that if current trends continue, the number of girl child marriages will increase dramatically over the next 10 years. This is based on 'Marrying too Young: End Child Marriage,' a new report released by the United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA,  on the inaugural International Day of the Girl Child. The report also finds that, despite laws to prevent its practice, child marriage has remained mostly constant in developing countries over the past decade. 
“No social, cultural or religious rationale for child marriage can possibly justify the damage these marriages do to young girls and their potential,” said UNFPA Executive Director, Dr Babatunde Osotimehin. “A girl should have the right to choose whom she marries and when. Since many parents and communities also want the very best for their daughters, we must work together to end child marriage. 
It is the only course by which we can avert what otherwise is the human tragedy of child marriage," said Dr Osotimehin.
In 2010, 158 countries reported that 18 years was the minimum legal age for marriage for women without parental consent or approval by a pertinent authority. Still, in 2010, one in three girls, or 67 million girls, were married before their 18th birthday in developing countries (excluding China).  
 Half of these child marriages took place in Asia, with another one fifth in sub-Saharan Africa. But the practice is also widespread in some communities in Latin America, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. 
Progress has been made, and the report finds that child marriage has declined in some developing countries, including Armenia, Bolivia, Ethiopia and Nepal, among other countries. 
By 2030, the number of child brides marrying each year will have grown from 14.2 million in 2010 to 15.1 million that is over 14 per cent if current trends continue
“Child marriage is an appalling violation of human rights and robs girls of their education, health and long-term prospects,” said Dr Osotimehin. “Marriage for girls can lead to complications of pregnancy and childbirth—the main causes of death among 15-19-year-old girls in developing countries.” 
A group of young people came together at The UN complex in Nairobi to mark this day. It was the first and officials from the UN hoped that in future there shall be much more publicity and awareness for the event.
Ms Batula Abdi, National Programme Officer in charge of Youth at UNFPA urged the girls to stand firm in their resolute and believe that they can even do better than the boy child.
“We are enabling and empowering young people. We do this through advocacy, to create a legislative environment so that they are able to enjoy their rights, including their right to education.  UNFPA also focuses on Family Life Education with the purpose of ensuring that young people have decision-making skills, skills to resist peer pressure. We teach these both in school and outside school.” said Ms Abdi.
Others who addressed the young people include Ms Eshila Maravanyika, Deputy Director, United Nations Information Centre (UNIC), Ms Irene Mwakesi, National Information Officer, UNIC and Janice Nduati also from UNIC.
Girls who are poor, have little or no education and live in rural areas are most likely to marry or enter child marriages. Girls living in rural areas of the developing world are twice as likely to enter marriage before 18 as their urban counterparts, and girls with no education are over three times more likely to do so than those with secondary or higher education. Girls’ vulnerability to child marriage substantially increases during humanitarian crises.
“When I was 14, I was pressured into getting married, but I knew this was not good for my health or future. The girls in my village who got married young stopped going to school and some even died giving birth,” said Salamatou Aghali Issoufa, a young woman from Niger who was able to convince her parents to delay her marriage. “I wanted to stay in school and become a midwife.”
Governments and leaders have been urged to end child marriage by: Enacting and enforcing national laws that raise the age of marriage to 18, for both girls and boys, using data to identify and target geographic “hotspots” – areas with high proportions and numbers of girls at risk of child marriage, expanding prevention programmes that empower girls at risk of child marriage and address the root causes underlying the practice and mitigating the harmful impact of child marriage on girls.
According to CISA, the UNFPA works to "deliver a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person’s potential is fulfilled."

Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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