“I’ve never experienced happiness in my marriage. I’ve never seen the benefit of being married,” Chimwemwe told me when I interviewed her in a small village in rural Malawi.
Chimwemwe was just 12-years-old when she married a 17-year-old boy to escape poverty at home. Like many girls I have interviewed in South Sudan, Tanzania, and Malawi about their marriages, she was hoping for a life of love and prosperity, but instead endured poverty and violence at the hands of her husband.
It’s encouraging that African leaders have put child marriage high on their agenda. This week, at the conclusion of the 28th African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, leaders held a high-level meeting on an AU campaign to end child marriage.
The campaign has already seen African heads of states adopt an agreement on child marriage back in June 2015, which sets out detailed steps that governments should take to reduce this harmful practice. Steps include enacting and implementing laws that set the minimum marriage age at 18 or above – with no exceptions – and putting in place comprehensive and well-financed national plans of action.
There is no simple solution for ending child marriage. Ensuring that girls have access to decent education is important. It’s also key that community and religious leaders understand and commit to their respective roles in ending child marriage. But we should also constantly assess if efforts to end child marriage are working or not. If they are not, Africa’s leaders should speak out and act promptly.
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