Almost 140 million girls and women in Africa have undergone female genital mutilation, and 40 million of these are child brides. Nine out of ten countries with the highest number of child brides in the world are in sub-Saharan Africa, including respectively Niger, the Central African Republic, Chad, Mali, Mozambique, Burkina Faso, South Sudan, Guinea, and Nigeria.
This is according to UNICEF's recently released continental and regional reports on the status of Africa's child marriage and female genital mutilation.
Child marriage and female genital mutilation are serious children's rights violations, yet unfortunately, these young girls below 18 years old continue to face the risk of one or even both practices. In fact, in Africa, there are currently 130 million child brides, both who got married before they turned 18 and adults who were married as children. Thus, the report calls on governments and regional institutions to hasten and intensify efforts and expand domestic resources.
Christian Today reported that UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Maisrie-Pierre Poirier, highlighted the urgent need for 'multisectoral and contextualised interventions' in poorer rural areas that have a widespread presence of child marriage, and that local churches are ideally placed to bring forth these interventions. Thus, Compassion, an international child development charity, does its work of saving these young girls through local church partners.
Compassion has a program named "Stop the Wedding", where the public is encouraged to donate and to raise awareness for child marriage prevention, with the motivation, "The situation facing millions of girls is desperate, but not definite. " Part of the charity's efforts are educating caregivers, religious leaders, local authorities, and parents to raise awareness of the children's rights, specifically of the girls, the importance of their education, and the dangers correlated with child marriage.
The Wedding Can Be Stopped
Christian Today shared the story of a girl called Djamila, not her true name, to emphasize the plausible risk of girls exposed to child marriage and to show how charities and organizations like Compassion, with the help of the church, can save the dreams and future of these girls.
Djamila lives with her family in a remote village in eastern Burkina Faso, where the number of child brides is among the topmost. At the age of 14, she almost became a child bride.
She can still recall that particular night in December of 2019 when her sister told her the disturbing news that their father was already planning to make her a bride of an older man before her 15th birthday, which was going to happen in a few days, and this is without her or her mother's consent and even if the country's legal age for marriage is at 17, making the upcoming wedding illegal and a violation to children's right.
According to UNICEF, there is more than 52 percent of girls who get married before 18, with 10 percent being child brides at the age of 15, and this is usually due to poverty or pressured from tradition. In fact, because of the crisis COVID pandemic has created, child marriage has intensified.
When Djamila found out, she did not hesitate but asked for the help of Compassion. She rushed to the centre and wrote a letter to the project director.
Djamila dreams of becoming a biology teacher, and she knew, that if the terrible plan of her father pushes through, her dream will have to end. This is just one of the dangers that these girls should be protected from.
Aside from denial of their rights to education and optimal health, they can also be exposed to sexually transmitted diseases, cervical cancer, and even death during childbirth and obstetric fistulas. Moreover, this horrific practice makes even the future generation victims as their children will be more likely to be raised in poverty.
As soon as Martha, the project director, read Djamila's letter, she immediately stepped in "by activating the child protection process in collaboration with the local authorities." She then asked the church pastor to take the girl into their house until the issue was solved and to protect her from any possible abduction by her "groom". Police and the Ministry of Social Affairs workers were also alerted and became part of the process. The local police summoned the girl's parents to attend a meeting where the police officer explained why and how child marriage is a violation of the law.
After awareness has come upon the father, he did not push through with the wedding. Currently, Djamila is back and safe living with her parents, saved from child marriage and its dangers, all because Compassion intervened and her parents were educated about the evil consequences brought by the practice.
Djamila has this to say about Compassion, "If not for the support of the centre, I would have been married against my will at a young age. I thank the workers at the centre for saving me from becoming a wife. May God bless them."
'Stop Giving Daughters Like Objects To Men'
Djamiela is just one of the girls who has raised her voice and shared her story to raise awareness in the hopes of more people putting up a fight against child marriage.
To all parents who want to marry off their children, this girl proclaimed that they should stop giving their daughters to men.
"Girls must have the opportunity and freedom to choose their future husbands without pressure from relatives. Stop giving your daughters like objects to men. Give them the chance to complete their education, to be mature before their wedding," she expressed.
For more stories, testimonials, and information against child marriage, you may visit Compassion's website, where you can easily get involved through prayers, volunteering, partnership, and sponsorships.