Over 700 million Sub-saharan girls under 18 forced into early marriage

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Madeline Nirere, the chairperson National Commission for Human Rights, talks to the media about the situation of early and forced marriages in the country in Kigali yesterday. (Doreen Umutesi)

Madeline Nirere, the chairperson National Commission for Human Rights, talks to the media about the situation of early and forced marriages in the country in Kigali yesterday. (Doreen Umutesi)

This was said, yesterday, by Madeline Nirere, the chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission.

Nirere was addressing a session on early and forced marriage and sex violence in conflicts, which has attracted rights commissions from all the 54 member states of the Commonwealth Club of Nations.

Citing a UNICEF report of 2014, Nirere said that at least 700 million girls under 18 years of age, mainly from sub-Saharan countries, face a threat of being forced into early marriage.

However, she said, this was a generic figure and countries still lack specific figures that called for meaningful sustainable solutions, tailored to specific countries.

?Here in Rwanda, we still have the threat but we have no concrete statistics on early marriage.

All stakeholders must come on board to ensure we have the figures to ably advocate for country-specific solutions to curb the vice,? she said.

The three-day session, she said, has a lot for individual country to benefit as it will provide platform for sharing experience, and where synergies are needed, create them to uproot forced marriage in the bloc.

After the meeting, there will be a Kigali Declaration on early, forced marriage and sexual violence in conflicts after which commissions will take strategies, measures of planned activities that each will pledge to achieve before the year closes.

According to Nirere, their resolutions, which will be in line with global development benchmarks, will be discussed in November in Malta during the Commonwealth Heads of State and Government Meeting (CHOGM).

Renewed call

During the 2014 UN General Assembly, heads of state concluded that early, forced marriage and sex violence in conflict situations impacts on girls? education and health, especially during childbirth, which deprives them opportunity to have a better life.

Nirere said the same issue was raised at the previous CHOGM held in 2013 in Sri Lanka, which called on civil society organisations and human rights commissions to act on preventive measures.

The trend, especially in developing countries, is mainly attributed to primitive culture where parents or society take children as a threat to the family?s fortunes if not married off young; and poverty, where some parents still look at their daughters as a source of wealth to the family.

The other reason that leads to forced marriage was identified as conflicts within families, which force girls to seek solace in marriage.

In Rwanda, marriage can only be legal if both the bride and groom are aged 21 and above.

While opening the meeting, Justice minister Johnston Busingye said early or forced marriage is a ticket to a challenging life that no parent should subject their children to, adding that marrying off a child at a young age means making them parents at a young stage and this would have an impact on their own children.

Michel Nkurunziza, The New Times

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