On a typical afternoon in any part of Ghana, twelve or thirteen-year-old girls are engaged in typical thirteen-year-old activities. Some spend that time seated in front of television screens, engrossed in their favorite shows. Some will be in the streets playing games with their friends. An increasing number of them may probably be playing with their smartphones while others help their parents at their shops or read a book.
Some, however, are not so lucky; they are already married, their childhoods ended abruptly and are forced into a situation they are by no means prepared for. According to a Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey Report of Ghana, on average, 1 out of 5 girls in Ghana gets married before their 18th birthday. That ratio increases to 1 out of 3 in the three regions in the North of Ghana. Put simply, almost 300,000 girls below the age of 18 get married each year.
There are many reasons for this phenomenon. Some of these girls may be orphaned and so they reside with extended family members who may be reluctant to bear the cost of these girls’ upkeep and would instead give her out in marriage. Others may be given out as retribution for a sin committed by another family against a tribal god or priest. In other cases, she is sold into marriage to a wealthy old man who, for reasons this writer cannot fathom, prefers young teenage girls. Whatever the reasons, and there are many more reasons for this, the spate of child marriages in Ghana needs to be dealt with.
On February 10, 2016, Ghana took a step towards ending this problem by launching an initiative dubbed “Ending Child Marriage” in Accra. According to official reports, it is a Government of Ghana initiative taken through the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection and supported by the Office of The First Lady. The launch which occurred at a welcome dinner for other African First Ladies visiting Ghana was also well attended by various dignitaries. Crucially, however, there were pledges to offer girls in such situations better choices and chances to explore life.
Earlier that day, a group called ActionAid Ghana secured a two-year Programme Cooperation Agreement with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), to work towards ending child marriage in Ghana. The programme, which will cost around USD 500 000, is targeted at girls and communities in selected regions of Ghana. They aim to use activities like meeting with girls’ clubs in the regions, enlightenment programs, public education events, group discussions for boys on respecting girls’ rights and exercising control, to help eradicate the menace of child marriages in Ghana.
These initiatives are timely. Child marriage is a breach of the child’s fundamental human rights and exposes him or her to diseases, violence, poverty, unwanted pregnancies and other harms. Thus, any action to stop child marriages is commendable. However, there is the need for these initiatives to be properly handled and monitored so they do not become another avenue for corrupt individuals to siphon off money into their bank accounts. It is not unheard of for an initiative to be launched with fanfare and then fail to achieve its targets. Some of these girls have no hope for a bright future. These initiatives can change that so that in a few years, the #GhanaEndsChildMarriage twitter trend will not be a call to arms but a reality.
Author: Senam, threesixtyGh Writer