Child marriage is a detrimental practice with far-reaching consequences, particularly for a child’s rights and educational opportunities. Globally, an estimated 14 million adolescent girls are forced into marriage each year, a crisis exacerbated by gender-based violence and discrimination. Girls from impoverished households face a higher likelihood of early marriage, and underlining these harmful practices is pervasive gender inequality.
In many instances, parents may marry off their daughters in an attempt to protect them from sexual violence, although child brides are more susceptible to domestic abuse. The dire effects extend to maternal mortality, as childbirth-related complications are a leading cause of mortality for girls aged 15 to 19. The consequences resonate throughout society, impeding development efforts, eroding GDP and productivity, and perpetuating generational poverty.
Education proves to be a powerful antidote, reducing the likelihood of early marriage and empowering girls to advocate for their rights. The correlation between child marriage and the attainment of multiple MDGs underscores the urgency of addressing this issue in post-2015 Development Agendas and the African Union’s Agenda 2063. To counter this crisis, birth registration emerges as a protective measure against early marriage, offering proof of age and safeguarding against various forms of abuse.
Child marriage’s persisting prevalence in Africa inflicts severe repercussions on both children, particularly girls, and society as a whole. International and continental consensus has emerged in recognizing child marriage’s detriment, evident in the commitment of the African Union Commission, United Nations entities, and partners to its eradication. Prohibited by the African Children’s Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) and the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa, child marriage’s minimum age of 18 is unequivocal in both frameworks. Efforts to curb this practice are underscored by Articles 21(2) of the ACRWC and Article 2(1)(a) of the Maputo Protocol, which stress legal actions against child marriage and gender-based discrimination.
Despite the existence of charters, protocols, and legal standards, child marriage persists, necessitating a comprehensive approach rooted in human rights principles and protective laws. The AU Joint General Comments on the Prohibition of Child Marriage outlines a multifaceted strategy, encompassing legal reform, policy formulation, compliance and promotion, criminal provision enforcement, and robust awareness campaigns. To address this complex issue, the focus should extend to fostering societal shifts by engaging families and communities, thereby challenging the harmful norms perpetuating child marriage. A multi-sectoral endeavor guided by human rights doctrines, legal safeguards, and collaborative societal change is pivotal to curbing child marriage’s enduring grip.
The African Union envisions an integrated, prosperous, and peaceful continent driven by its own citizens, as detailed in Agenda 2063—a collective roadmap for a united Africa based on shared values and aspirations. The vision prioritizes freedom, equality, justice, and dignity, with Aspiration 6 particularly emphasizing youth empowerment, access to education, health, and jobs, safety for children, and early childhood development. This commitment aligns with the Africa Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC), mirroring the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The ACRWC safeguards children from sexual exploitation, abuse, and hazardous work, while the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) plays a vital role in ensuring the continent’s fitness for children by promoting and safeguarding their rights.
Against this backdrop, the five-year continental plan of action (2021-2025) emerges with a focus on addressing Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (OCSEA). Designed to foster comprehensive and coordinated efforts, the plan aims to galvanize member states, stakeholders, and partners to accelerate actions in OCSEA prevention, protection, and prosecution. By prioritizing the safeguarding of children against online exploitation and abuse, the plan seeks to uphold the principles of Agenda 2063, the ACRWC, and the ACERWC’s mandate, collectively working towards a continent where the rights and welfare of children are prioritized and safeguarded.