(Nairobi) – African governments should coordinate action to improve laws, education, health care, and public awareness to end the scourge of child marriage, Human Rights Watch said today on International Human Rights Day, December 10, 2015. Forty percent of girls in sub-Saharan Africa marry before age 18, and African countries account for 15 of the 20 countries with the highest rates of child marriage.
A new 20-page Human Rights Watch report, “Ending Child Marriage in Africa: Opening the Door for Girls’ Education, Health, and Freedom from Violence,” shows how child marriage has dire lifelong consequences, often severely reducing a girl’s ability to realize a wide range of human rights. Marrying early often ends a girl’s education, exposes her to domestic and sexual violence, increases serious health risks and death from early childbearing and HIV, and traps her in poverty.
“Government leaders across Africa often say the right things about child marriage, but have yet to produce the political commitment, resources, and on-the-ground help that could end this harmful practice,” said Agnes Odhiambo, senior Africa women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that without progress to prevent child marriage, the number of married girls in Africa will rise from 125 million to 310 million by 2050. In September 2015, African leaders joined other governments to adopt the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which include a target to end child marriage in the next 15 years. Africa’s human rights treaties on women’s and children’s rights, agreed to by African states, explicitly state that the minimum age of marriage should be 18.