Monrovia – In spite of all of the interventions and protocols that commit Africa to ending child marriage, figures coming out of the continent continue to be at an alarming rate and Liberia is of no exception.
To end this menace in Liberia, Save The Children International-Liberia program has launched a campaign dubbed, “Every Last Child Campaign” under the theme: “End Child Marriage.”
Speaker of the Children Parliament Satta Sheriff said that it is not only important but also demanding that actions are taken to end the practice of child marriage in Liberia.
“The eradication of child marriage will enhance the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), thereby providing equitable opportunities for girls to achieve their educational and developmental rights,” Sheriff said.
Sheriff said by international conventions, 18 years has been established as the legal age of consent to marriage.
Sheriff further stated that the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, Section 21:2, calls for prohibiting “child marriage”.
Sheriff noted that child marriage robs girls of the chance to lead their own lives on their own terms.
“It also has devastating lifelong consequences. Child marriage violates the basic human rights of girls to health, education, safety and well-being,” she said.
Sheriff said 14 million girls worldwide are married before age 18 every year. She added that they are forced into the arrangement by their parents.
Child marriage is a global issue worldwide. More than 700 million women alive today were married as children. 17% of them, or 125 million, live in Africa.
Approximately 39% of girls in sub-Saharan Africa are married before the age of 18. All African countries are faced with the challenge of child marriage, whether they experience high child marriage prevalence, such as Niger (76%) or lower rates like Algeria (3%).
Sheriff said child marriage is widespread in West and Central Africa (42%) as well as Eastern and Southern Africa (36%).
The Speaker of the Children Parliament said child marriage is common in Liberia adding that parents at times betrothed their daughters due to poverty or because of the perception that marriage will provide protection and family honor.
“Tradition and the stigma of straying from tradition perpetuate child marriage in many communities. Crucially, gender inequality and the low value placed on girls underlie the practice and in most instances, child marriages result to teenage pregnancy,” Sheriff said.
A UNICEF report 2002-2012 states that 10.8% of girls are married at the age of 15 years and 37.9 % are married by the age of 18 years.
The Speaker of the Liberian Children parliament argued that child Marriage is not just a violation of girls’ human rights, but also one of the most pervasive and earliest forms of gender-based violence.
“It has a range of harmful repercussions on the girl child including issues of partner violence, lack of self-confidence and skills for child brides to make their own life choices among others,” Sheriff said.
Sheriff said it affects their ability for decision-making, labor force participation, and other options for exercising their human rights. In addition, early motherhood constrains a girl’s life opportunities rendering her more likely to be poor with related consequences for the wider community.
She said child marriages have repercussions that affect child brides’ ability to enroll in and complete school, which is a fundamental predictor of their development and achievement.
“Child marriage often compromises a girl’s development by resulting in early pregnancy and social isolation, interrupting her schooling, limiting her opportunities for career and vocational advancement and placing her at increased risk of domestic violence and other health implications including contraction of HIV/AIDs, Sexually Transmitted Infections as well as reproductive complications.”
Sheriff continued: “Some traditional/cultural and religious practices reflect values and beliefs held by members of a community for periods often spanning generations.”
Save the Children Advocacy and Child Protection Manager Lovely Sie said, children are the most vulnerable group.
“We had consultations with children and there were lots of issues identified by the children after the consultation, the issue of child marriage was ranked as one of the key priority areas,” Sie said.
Sie said, Save The Children campaign is a three-year initiative campaign that intends to move critical barriers for excluded children.
“We will ensure we achieve impact for the most marginalized children. In order for any nation to achieve the sustainable goals, we need to provide basic services for the children that are vulnerable,” Sie added.
According to Sie, the campaign will tackle issues from the community level so that every child would and parent would feel the impact of the initiative.
Legally, Liberia has a dual legal system, statutory and customary laws. Both sources of law are recognized by the Constitution (Art 62). Both are recognizable and are equal in our jurisdiction and depend on the local location.
Lack of harmonization in legal frame work- to protect the rights of girls-The Constitution which is the organic law of Liberia is silent on the legal age for marriage; therefore either of the dual legal systems can be practiced as a matter of choice. This is clearly a gap and provides a gateway to child marriages in Liberia.
The National Visioning 2030 of Liberia, the 18 year National Roadmap and Agenda for Change and Transformation, contains provisions for the protection of women and girls against violence and other degrading treatments.