Gender Gender

AU 1st girls summit on child marriages

CHILDREN’S CORNER with PANIC CHILUFYA
“We must do away with child marriage. Girls who end up as brides at a tender age are coerced into having children while they are children themselves.” Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union Commission, 2013.
TOMORROW Zambia hosts the African Union (AU) First African Girls’ Summit on Ending Child Marriages in Africa. The two-day summit, in context with the AU’s theme for 2015 – Year of Women’s Empowerment and Development towards Agenda 2063, is expected to accelerate Zambia’s fight against child marriages by sharing experiences with other member states.
The summit will bring together high-level officials from AU members, some heads of state and government and first ladies, high-level United Nations dignitaries, civil society and international organisations, as well as community and religious leaders and other stakeholders.
In welcoming the decision to host the summit, Minister of Gender and Child Development Nkandu Luo said: “As a nation, we are excited to have been given this great opportunity to host this important event, which will accelerate our effort in the fight against child marriage through sharing of experiences with other member states.”
The summit deliberately meant to coincide with the Sixteen Days of Gender Activism which is commemorated from today, November 25 to December 10 every year, will help highlight the major problems that affect a girl child in Africa. It will also be an opportunity to engender necessary change to prevent the continuous violation of the rights of children.
If no deliberate and sustained efforts are implemented within the next ten years to stop or eliminate child marriages from occurring, the continent runs a risk of having about 14.2 million girls under the age of 18 being married off every year; resulting  into 39,000 girls becoming child brides every day, situation, which I am sure most stakeholders find very difficult to imagine.
This grim picture will definitely mean that the desire by most African countries to have increased numbers of women in leadership and decision-making positions will never be achieved because most girls will grow into vulnerable and disadvantaged women who will forever be at the mercy of the men in their lives such as husbands, partners, fathers, brothers; the list is endless. They will not have an opportunity to acquire an education which will enable them to reach their highest potential.
Child marriages are a deep reflection of all-encompassing gender discrimination and its devastating effects on the girl-child and society. In recognising how this vice hinders any meaningful development, the AU Commission in May last year launched a continent-wide campaign to end the harmful practice.
Zambia has one of the highest child marriage rates in Africa which stands at 42 percent of women between 20-24 years getting married before their eighteen birthday; this is despite setting  21 as the minimum age of marriage for both boys and girls.
In expressing delight about Zambia’s decision to host the summit, Mustapha Sidiki Kaloko, Commissioner for Social Affairs, noted that the summit is timely because the AU is committed to advocating, in a coordinated and concerted manner, against negative practices that contravene the rights and welfare of all children especially the girl-child.
I would like to applaud Zambia and other member states of the AU for their commitment to ending child marriage on the continent. By investing in and prioritising the welfare of girls, Africa will register increased development and economic growth because an educated and empowered girl is a proactive citizen and pillar of strength in her home, community and country.
With the fulfilment of girls’ rights there is overwhelming evidence that education is a powerful transformative force for societies and for girls themselves. The eradication of child marriages leads to positive outcomes such as a reduction in mortality rates, unplanned pregnancies, poverty and vulnerability, incidences of sexually-transmitted infections, deaths, cases of gender-based violence and equitable growth.
The girl-child must be given a chance to succeed and help to change the world. May I take this opportunity to wish all delegates to the fruitful deliberations for the sake of the girl child and the future of our great continent.
Remember, children are our future. Until next week, take care.
pchilufya@daily-mail.co.zm; gender@daily-mail.co.zm.

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