This year’s celebration of the International Day of the African Child (DAC) in The Gambia has seen a strong message being sent by the organisers - that child marriage should be ended and ended now.
The DAC is celebrated on June 16 every year in Africa and beyond by governments, NGOs, international organisations and other stakeholders since 1991, when it was first initiated by the Organisation of African Unity, now African Union.
The celebration has ever been interesting as different topical issues of relevance to the health and well-being of children are discussed.
This year’s message - the need for collective and concerted effort to end child marriage - is all-important because statistics on child marriage are so worrying to be ignored.
Every year, 15 million girls under the age of 18 become brides - an average of 40,000 girls every day. Isn’t this mind boggling?
Many of these girls are not in school and lack of access to education increases the chances of child, early and forced marriage.
Despite laws and campaigns against child marriage, the issue still remains pervasive in the communities.
The African Charter on the rights and welfare of the child clearly prohibits child marriage, among other issues.
But 25 years after the adoption of the charter and near-universal ratification of the charter by African states, child marriage remains a brutal reality for millions of girls across Africa.
In the home front, the right to free and full consent to marriage is recognised in the Children’s Act, 2005.
Under the Act, consent could not be free and full when one of the parties involved is not sufficiently mature to make an informed decision about a life partner.
In spite of this beautiful provision, child marriage have been reported in all rural communities in The Gambia, with girls at the age of 11 and 12 given away to the older persons against their will.
The government should fully enforce the legal age of marriage and protect children as minors in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
In addition, there should be more intensive, sustained and continuous campaigns and awareness raising about the negative consequence of child marriage on the child-mother, the child, the father, the household and the society as a whole.
girls is one of the most powerful tools to prevent child marriage!.”