Civil society dialogue heeds strong commitment to ending child marriage in Africa

Date: Monday, June 15, 2015

Johannesburg, South Africa – Linda, from Malawi, was married at the age of 12 and had a child at the age of 13. “I now have a child but I still need an education,” she said, asking governments to provide schooling and education opportunities to girls in the same situation. She spoke at the Civil Society Consultative Dialogue on Ending Child Marriage on 13 June, organized by the African Union Commission and the World YWCA, during the 25th African Union Summit taking place in Johannesburg, South Africa, from 7–15 June 2015.

“Child marriage is not a marriage – it’s a crime,” said Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, AU Goodwill Ambassador for Ending Child Marriage. This has been a priority for the African Union, especially since the launch of the continental Campaign to End Early and Child Marriage. While the crime of marrying girls at a young age has been addressed continuously during recent days of the 25th African Union Summit, collective commitment was reached at the Civil Society Consultative Dialogue.

Participants recognized the importance of the Campaign, while stressing that national actions, including the harmonization of laws and adequate resourcing, legal and accountability mechanisms as well as new and strengthened partnerships are the most critical components in advancing the cause. “We must work with churches and traditional leaders,” said Barbara Kalima-Phiri, Director Advisor for Advocacy and Justice for Children, World Vision International, Southern Africa Regional Office.

The meeting took place one day before African Heads of State gathered in South Africa for the AU Summit during the AU “Year of Women’s Empowerment and Development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063”, where they are also likely to adopt a common position on ending child marriage in Africa.

Participants agreed that implementation of the campaign at the national and grass-roots level should be key in moving forward and services provided to affected girls and women have to be enhanced. “Campaigning alone is not enough,” stated Chiedza Chikonye, from Roots Zimbabwe, highlighting that information on the rights of children should be shared in schools and made widely available.

Participants agreed that ending early and child marriage cannot be seen in isolation but rather will have to be linked to underlying causes of discrimination against women and girls and gender inequality. “Poverty and other socioeconomic challenges like conflicts often force girls and young women to sell their bodies for survival which might end in child marriage,” stressed Modi Enosa Mbaraza, Executive Director of the YWCA in South Sudan.

AU Goodwill Ambassador Ms. Gumbonzvanda, called for justice and male responsibility. “Why don’t we see the names of the men who are engaged and why does impunity continue?”

UN Women Representative to the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), Letty Chiwara, stressed that “the Year of Women in Africa presents us with an opportunity not only to demand accountability of States to end child marriage but also with a momentum to harmonize our efforts in building the capacities of community actors, including religious and traditional leaders, teachers and women to address the root causes of this harmful practise in Africa.”

The civil society consultation revealed significant commitment and willingness to collaborate and build synergies on the issue, with representatives ranging from the World YWCA, Plan International, the Ford Foundation, Save the Children, UNICEF, UNFPA and UN Women, with many others speaking out. “Please join us in the fight to make Africa fit for children,” said H.E. Ambassador Olawale Maiyegun, Director for Social Affairs, African Union Commission.

UN Women provided financial support for the meeting as well as for the participation of 10 young women to the AU Summit.

In closing, the meeting called for the establishment of an institutionalized civil society forum on the margins of the Summit in order to ensure the integration of voices of people from various walks of life, especially young women.