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Ending child marriage in Ghana: Empowering the future

While the prevalence of child marriage in Ghana has declined over the past two decades, it still lingers around. The recent which came to light is the marriage between a 12-year-old girl who was later said to be 16 years old and Gborbu Wulomo, Nuumo Borketey Laweh XXXIII.

The incident, which surfaced on Saturday, March 30, 2024, on social media sparked widespread criticism and concern.

Mantse Odaifio Welentsi, a figure endorsing the marriage, defended the ceremony, citing a longstanding custom that requires the priest to marry a virgin. However, this faced significant backlash, especially considering the young age of the bride.

In response to this controversy, several Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), organisations and individuals issued statements expressing their viewpoints and concerns. This and many more of such marriages have over the years happened across the country, especially in rural areas.

Understanding Child Marriage

Under the 1992 Constitution and the Children’s Act, a child is anyone under the age of 18. The Act sets the minimum age of marriage as 18 and under the Criminal Code Amendment Act, a girl cannot be married without her consent. In 2014, the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection set up a Child Marriage Unit to coordinate efforts to address child marriage.

Child marriage is defined as “a formal marriage or informal union of children before the age of 18.” It is not only a violation of human rights but also a barrier to individual empowerment and national development. The reasons behind child marriage are complex, including gender inequality, poverty, cultural norms, and teenage pregnancy. Child marriage is a violation of human rights. Every child has the right to be protected from this harmful practice, which has devastating consequences for individuals and for society.

Child marriage is now firmly on the global development agenda, most prominently through its inclusion in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 5.3, which aims to eliminate the practice by 2030. Although indicator 5.3.1 measures child marriage among girls, the practice occurs among boys as well. Regardless of gender, marriage before adulthood is a breach of children’s rights.

The minimum legal age for marriage in Ghana is 18 years. However, girls below 15 are literally pushed into marriage in Ghana. Child, Early and Forced marriages (CEFM) in Ghana manifests as both a violence and socio-development issue. The National Strategic Framework on Ending Child Marriage 2017 – 2026 reports that one in every five girls in Ghana gets married before 18 years, with emphasis on the percentage of girls between 20-24 years. This translates to a national prevalence rate of 21%, specifically, 2% of women aged 15-19, 5% of women aged 20-24,and 11% of women aged 45-49 were married by age 15. Child marriage disproportionally affects girls over boys: among boys aged 20-24 years, 2% were married before the age of 18, compared to 21% of girls.

The phenomenon of CEFM in Ghana also has regional, educational, health, geographic, and wealth dimensions. The three northern regions (Upper West, Upper East, and Northern) have significantly higher prevalence rates, averaging 34% (1 in 3 girls), than the national average. There is high prevalence of child marriage in rural areas as compared to urban areas, with a rate of 36.2% for the former and 19.4% for the later. This reflects the general statistics as women in urban areas are indicated to marry 3.5 years later than those in rural areas.

Also, girls from poorer households (41.2%) are more likely to be married by age 18 years than girls from richer households (11.5%). In addition, high education level is a factor that decreases the prevalence of child marriage. Forty-one point six percent (41.6%) of women with no education married before age 18 while 4.7% of women with secondary or higher level of education married before the same age.

The United Nations (UN) Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner and the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) in a report on Child, Early and Forced in Ghana in November 2018 indicated that the country was exposed to ‘multiple weather-related and health-related hazards, particularly floods as well as pockets of intractable chieftaincy and related conflicts in some parts of the country that, more often than not, lead to forced displacement.

They said that these humanitarian situations contribute to high levels of poverty which intersect with sociocultural practices affecting the prevalence of child, early and forced marriages (CEFM) in the country. They noted that the factors associated with CEFM in Ghana include; poverty, customary laws that condone such practices, such as girls being given in marriage as “compensation’’ and “settlement’’ for family/communal issues like debts, and lack of education and employability/livelihoods opportunities for girls.

Others they underscored included a lack of knowledge, and poor enforcement of laws that protect girls from CEFM, school dropout, moral and safety considerations (e.g. fear of girl’s early engagement in sex and pregnancy out of wedlock). From all indications, CEFM in Ghana manifests as both a violence and socio-development issue.

A Collaborative Approach

Child marriage is a global phenomenon, recognised as one of the major impediment to the development of a country and the full realisation of the rights of children. The Ghanaian government in 2014 accepted the universal call to end child marriage in accordance with several international conventions and declarations and took measurable steps to address the issue comprehensively across the nation.

Ending child marriage in Ghana requires a multi-faceted approach. This includes among other things the need to strengthen the implementation of the National Strategic Framework (NSF). The

A national campaign to end child marriage in Ghana was officially launched on 10th February 2016 under the auspices of former President John Dramani Mahama with support from UNICEF-Ghana. Despite this and several other interventions by stakeholders, the menace still persists.

This framework engages different sectors, including government, civil society, development partners, media, children, religious leaders, and traditional leaders. Together, they work towards a common goal: a Ghana where every child can thrive without the burden of early marriage.

The NSF strategy provides guidance to all actors committed to ending child marriage by 2030. In line with Girls Not Brides’ Theory of Change, the strategy aims to empower girls and boys to be better able to prevent and respond to child marriage; influence positive change in communities’ beliefs, attitudes and social norms and accelerate access to quality education, sexual and reproductive health information and services.

It also to ensure the legal and policy frameworks related to ending child marriage are in place, effectively enforced and implemented and increase the quality and amount of data and evidence available to inform policy and programming.

The NSF encourages community reflection and local action. It provides tools and activities to stimulate dialogue within communities. By involving community members, including parents, elders, and youth, Ghana aims to change social norms and challenge harmful practices.

The Road Ahead

Ghana’s commitment to ending child marriage extends beyond policy frameworks. It involves hearts, minds, and collective action. As the nation rallies together, it sends a powerful message: Girls need rights, not rites. Let us continue this journey, ensuring that every child’s potential is nurtured, dreams are realised, and marriages are based on love, consent, and maturity.

Empowering the future is a phrase that generally refers to the act of investing in and nurturing the younger generation, who are considered the future of society. This can be done through various means such as:

Education: Providing quality education to children and young adults equips them with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in the future. This includes not just academic education, but also teaching critical thinking, problem-solving, and emotional intelligence.

Opportunities: Creating opportunities for young people to gain experience, learn new skills, and contribute to society can empower them to shape their own futures. This could be through internships, volunteer work, or community projects.

Resources: Ensuring that the younger generation has access to the resources they need to thrive, such as healthcare, technology, and a safe environment, is another way to empower the future.

Voice: Encouraging young people to express their opinions and ideas, and taking those ideas seriously, can empower them to become active participants in shaping the future.

In essence, to “empower the future” means to give the younger generation the tools, opportunities, and support they need to become the best they can be, thereby ensuring a brighter future for all.

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