Every year, millions of women and girls are subject to harmful traditional practices such as child, early and forced marriage. If current trends continue, in the next decade 14.2 million girls under the age of 18 will be married every year, with most living in low and middle-income countries. Tradition, security, poverty and unequal gender roles are some of the leading causes of child marriage, with the highest prevalence of child marriage occuring in Africa. On 26 and 27 November 2015, the African Union, in partnership with the Government of Zambia hosted the inaugural African Girls Summit on Ending Child Marriage in Africa.
The meeting brought together several stakeholders including the First Ladies of Zambia, South Africa and Ethiopia; high level UN dignitaries; women and girls; civil society organizations; and religious and traditional leaders. The aim of the Summit was to share experiences on ending child marriage at country, regional and international levels, particularly among countries that have already launched the African Union Commission Campaign to end child marriage; to secure and/or renew commitments from stakeholders, particularly governments, to invest more in order to accelerate and end child marriage; and to facilitate interactive discussions of successes and challenges from community leaders, traditional and religious leaders, girls affected by child marriage and youth advocating against child marriage.
The Summit started with a movie night hosted by the First Lady of Zambia, Mrs Esther Lungu. The night featured several short films by civil society organisations on efforts to end child marriage.
The grand opening included an interactive panel discussion on “Translating rhetoric into actions: Girls at center stage”. This was followed by several smaller Parallel Sessions led by assigned international civil society and donor organisations including the Commonwealth Secretariat, UNFPA, OHCHR, Girls Not Brides, UN WOMEN, UNICEF, PLAN INTERNATIONAL, and many more. Sessions included “Celebrating successes: Case studies of communities that have made commendable change”; “The Role of the media: Promoting positive support for preventing child marriage and teen pregnancy”; “Joint initiative for ending female genital mutilation and child marriage :accelerating social change”; Effectively addressing violence against girls-physical, sexual abuse and exploitation through child marriage child protection system”; “Sexual exploitation of children for commercial purposes”; “Voices of the youth: role of the young people in ending child marriage”; “Innovative strategies to mobilise communities- medium of drama, music and film”; and much more.
I attended the Parallel Sessions on “Changing the attitude on tradition and culture towards harmful traditional practices” and “The role of men and boys on ending harmful practice of child marriage”. Both Sessions highlighted the important role religious and traditional leaders, and men and boys, play in ending child, early and forced marriage. They acknowledged that while much has been done by the women’s moment and civil society to end child marriage, such efforts will be more effective with the support of religious and traditional leaders as the custodians of faith and culture, and men and boys as the perceived defenders of communities and in most cases, the perpetrators of child marriage.
I believe that everyone can play a role in ending harmful traditional practices at the community level. Efforts could range from advocating for the promotion and protection of women and girls rights in our communities; engaging with local and national leaders to enact and enforce effective laws that protect the rights of vulnerable women and girls; reporting cases of harmful traditional practices to law enforcement; assisting with the sustainable empowerment of youths; raising our young women and girls to become independent members of society; and raising our men and boys to respect and honor women. At the governmental level, it is my hope more African countries adopt and implement the African Union Commission Action Plan for the Implementation of the African Common Position on Ending Child Marriage in Africa.
The President of Zambia, His Excellency Mr Edgar Lungu, giving the key note address
The opening segment on 26 November 2015
The First Ladies of South Africa, Zambia and Ethiopia at Parallel Session
The First Lady of South Africa, Mrs Thobeka Madiba-Zuma, reading the outcome statement of the Summit
The next African Girls Summit is scheduled for some time in 2018.
You can learn more about the Summit and the African Union Commission Campaign to end child marriage by clicking HERE