Studies have shown that the young are married off for various reasons. Notably, it is often to protect the ‘so-called’ family honour. It is considered an abomination for a woman to engage in a sexual relationship before marriage. In quite a number of traditions, it remains a significant component of the practice of marriage that the woman undergoes virginity test. When a woman is found positive, this is greeted with joy and pomp and pride. If the woman tests negative, her family becomes subject of ridicule at best. In worse cases, the marriage bond is severed. However scientifically unreliable this virginity test is, the fear for such a consequence does motivate some parents to subject their girl-child to female genital mutilation and ‘seal’ them in the process. Others simply marry the young girl off at an early age.
But there are other reasons for child marriage, which essentially have to do with material gain in its many forms. Some parents marry off their young girls in order to strengthen ties with a particular family. Others marry off their young girls to strengthen their political connections. Others simply sell off their young girls in the name of marrying them off. Whether it is for customary reasons or for financial reasons, little consideration, if any, is given to the concern of the young girl on whose behalf the parents take decisions. This is pathetic and the effects are for all to bear, particularly the girl child.
In our Monday edition, a Unicef official provided an important link between child marriage and poverty. Statistics reveals that every year, 14 million girls are married worldwide. One in seven girls in the developing world is married before her 15th birthday – some as young as eight or nine. The Gambia might not be in the bracket of 20 hot spots but the national statistics reveal an unacceptable scenario. The results of the 2010 multiple indicator cluster survey show that 8.6 percent of girls and women aged 15 to 49 years were married or in union before their 15 birthday while 46.5 percent were married or in union before they turned 18 years, a contributing factor to the incidence of teenage pregnancy. Most of these girls are found out to be poor, less-educated, and living in rural areas.
There is therefore substantive evidence to conclude that child marriage contributes to the cycle of poverty in communities in The Gambia. The justifications are simple: Girls who marry while they are still children are often unable to enjoy social and economic opportunities. Because they are married early, little or no focus is given to their education, going grossly against the adage, “educate a woman and you educate a family, educate a family and you educate a nation.” Pulling out of the future generations from schools perpetuates the cycle of poverty and thereby curtails the overall economic growth of the nation.
Besides, child marriage directly threatens the health and well-being of girls: complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the main cause of death among adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 in developing countries. Girls aged 15 to 20 are twice as likely to die in childbirth as those in their 20s, and girls under the age of 15 are five times as likely to die. Moreover, married girls and young women between the ages of 15 and 19 with low levels of education are at a much greater risk of domestic and sexual violence from their spouses than older and more educated women.
Child marriage, therefore, violates many human rights; including to education, freedom from violence, reproductive rights, access to reproductive and sexual health care, employment, freedom of movement, and the right to consensual marriage. Every support should be given to the ongoing campaign to stop the practice and give our girls the chance to grow.]]>