The shame of child marriage

21 August 2019 | Opinion

President Hage Geingob’s plea around child marriages should be commended.

Speaking at the opening of the 22nd annual meeting of the Council of Traditional Leaders this week, Geingob also called on traditional leaders to do more to root out violence, discrimination and crime in the country. Tellingly, he urged them not to allow child marriages and labour, and to report such incidents. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Namibian constitution state that a person must be at “full age” when married and that a marriage should be entered into freely and with full consent. The 2011 census findings revealed that child marriage affects both girls and boys, noting that 3 828 girls and 1 699 boys were living in traditional marriages or consensual unions. The incidence of teenage pregnancy is also of great concern in Namibia, with approximately 26% of girls aged 18 having started child-bearing, as revealed by the Namibia Demographic and Health Survey of 2013.

Unicef data released in 2014 in the report ‘Ending Child Marriage: Progress and Prospects’, showed that more than 700 million women who were alive all over the world at the time were married before their 18th birthday. Many of them were forced into these unions before the age of 15. While the median age at first marriage is gradually increasing, this improvement has been limited primarily to girls of families with higher incomes while girls from resource-constrained families suffer profound, permanent and utterly unnecessary harm from child marriages. Geingob reiterated this week that traditional authorities and their leaders have a huge role to play in terms of the promotion and creation of conditions for the empowerment and protection of women and children in society. Child marriages strike at the heart of efforts to uplift the girl child. Committed efforts to end child marriage must therefore include the adoption of strategies for the economic empowerment of families, the promotion of access to social protection, inclusive education and sexual and reproductive services for vulnerable girls.

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