Ending child marriage in Ghana: strengthening the future

Although the number of child marriages in Ghana has decreased over the past two decades, it still persists. The recent one that came to light is the marriage between a 12 year old girl, later said to be 16 years old, and Gborbu Wulomo, Nuumo Borketey Laweh XXXIII.

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

Mantse Odaifio Welentsi, a figure who endorsed the marriage, defended the ceremony, citing a long-standing 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 organizations (CSOs), organizations and individuals have issued statements expressing their views and concerns. These and many more such marriages have happened over the years across the country, especially in rural areas.

Understanding child marriage

According to the 1992 Constitution and the Children’s Act, a child is anyone under the age of 18. The law sets the minimum age for marriage at 18 years and according to the Criminal Code Act, a girl cannot marry without her consent. In 2014, the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection established a Child Marriage Unit to coordinate efforts to combat 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, especially with 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 girls. boys too. Regardless of gender, marriage before adulthood is a violation of children’s rights.

The legal minimum age for marriage in Ghana is 18 years. However, girls under the age of 15 in Ghana are literally forced into marriage. Child, early and forced marriage (CEFM) in Ghana manifests as both a problem of violence and social development. The National Strategic Framework on Ending Child Marriage 2017 – 2026 reports that one in five girls in Ghana are married before the age of 18, with a focus on the percentage of girls between the ages of 20 and 24. This translates into a national prevalence rate of 21%, specifically 2% of women aged 15 to 19, 5% of women aged 20 to 24 and 11% of women aged 45 to 49 were at 15 years of age age married. girls over boys: of boys aged 20 to 24, 2% married before the age of 18, compared to 21% of girls.

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

Girls from poorer households (41.2%) are also more likely to be married at age 18 than girls from richer households (11.5%). Moreover, a high level of education is a factor that reduces the number of child marriages. Forty-one point six percent (41.6%) of women with no education married before the age of 18, while 4.7% of women with secondary or higher education married before the same age.

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

They said these humanitarian situations contribute to high levels of poverty that intersect with socio-cultural practices that influence the prevalence of child, early and forced marriage (CEFM) in the country. They noted that factors associated with CEFM in Ghana include: poverty, customary law that condones such practices such as marrying off girls as ‘compensation’ and ‘settlement’ for family/community issues such as debts, and a lack of education and labor market/livelihood opportunities for girls.

Others they highlighted included a lack of knowledge and poor enforcement of laws protecting girls from CEFM, school dropouts, moral and safety concerns (for example, fears of girls’ early sex and out-of-wedlock pregnancies). From all indications, CEFM in Ghana is manifesting as both a problem of violence and social development.

A joint approach

Child marriage is a global phenomenon and is recognized as one of the greatest obstacles to a country’s development and the full realization of children’s rights. The Ghanaian government accepted the universal call to end child marriage in 2014, in line with several international treaties and declarations, and took measurable steps to comprehensively address the problem across the country.

Ending child marriage in Ghana requires a multifaceted approach. This includes 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 February 10, 2016 under the auspices of former President John Dramani Mahama, with support from UNICEF-Ghana. Despite this and several other stakeholder interventions, the threat persists.

This framework involves various 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 for 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 better prevent and respond to child marriage; Influencing positive changes in the beliefs, attitudes and social norms of communities and accelerating access to quality education, sexual and reproductive health information and services.

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

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’s about hearts, minds and collective action. As the country unites, it sends a powerful message: girls need rights, not rituals. Let us continue this journey and ensure that every child’s potential is nurtured, dreams are realized and marriages are based on love, consent and maturity.

Empowering the future is an expression that generally refers to investing in and nurturing the younger generation, which is considered the future of society. This can be done in various ways, 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 only academic education, but also teaching critical thinking, problem solving and emotional intelligence.

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

Sources: 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 power the future.

Vote: Encouraging young people to express their opinions and ideas, and to take these ideas seriously, can empower them to become active participants in shaping the future.

In essence, ’empowering the future’ means giving the younger generation the tools, opportunities and support they need to be their best selves, ensuring a better future for all.

The writer is a journalist at Citi TV/Citi FM

Email: [email protected]

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