Child marriage still prevalent

Cultural practices in Namibia perpetuate gender inequality and the notion that girls are the property of men.

03 July 2020 | Cultural

ELLANIE SMIT

WINDHOEK



A total of 7% of girls in Namibia are married before the age of 18 and 2% are married before their 15th birthday.

Although the law prohibits child marriage in Namibia, it is still practised under traditional arrangements.

According to the 2020 State of World Population, released by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), child marriages are almost universally banned, yet they happen 33 000 times a day all around the world.

The report says at least 19 harmful practices, ranging from breast ironing to virginity testing, are considered human rights violations, but it focuses on the three most prevalent ones: female genital mutilation, child marriage and extreme bias against daughters in favour of sons.

According to the report, an estimated 650 million girls and women alive today were married as children, and by 2030, another 150 million girls under the age of 18 will be married.

“Eliminating child marriage would have enormous benefits for not only the empowerment of girls, but also for their health, education and well-being, as well as for communities and nations.” The report found that globally the prevalence of child marriage is around 21%.

The highest prevalence of child marriage is in West and Central Africa at 40%, followed by East and Southern Africa at 34%.

It added that in 17 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, at least 10% of young women were married or in unions before the age of 15.

The prevalence of child marriage is decreasing globally, falling from about 25% in 2006 to 21% in 2018.



Harmful cultures

According to the Girls not Brides organisation, concerns have been raised that cultural practices in Namibia perpetuate gender inequality and the notion that girls are the property of men. Humiliation and violence against young girls are sometimes used to enforce submission and obedience in preparation for child marriage, it said.

“Generally young girls in Namibia marry much older men, which further emphasises power and gender imbalances within marriages.”

Namibia has committed to eliminate child and forced marriage by 2030 in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.

Namibia is also one of 20 countries which has committed to ending child marriage by the end of 2020 under the ministerial commitment on comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents and young people in Eastern and Southern Africa.

A girl forced into an early marriage will in many cases drop out of school, dashing prospects for later earnings and autonomy. She may find herself socially isolated and prone to depression.

Unlike a boy in an early marriage, she may get pregnant whether she wants to or not, and before her body is ready, leading to a host of risks and consequences for her and her baby.

Girls Not Brides is a global partnership of more than 1 000 civil society organisations committed to ending child marriage.

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