Early marriage which is defined as a union, formal or informal, entered into by a child or youth under a certain age, typically aged eighteen, has been one of the leading cause of underdevelopment in most African countries, given rise to high levels of illiteracy especially among the girl child, unprecedented increase in death toll and a threat to the health of either parties. Despite the negative effect it has on the African continent and the world at large, little progress has been made towards ending the practice of child marriage. In fact, the problem threatens to increase with the expanding youth population in developing world as projected figures from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) show that, between 2011 and 2020, more than 140 million girls will become child brides. Seen as a prime violation to human rights, international bodies, integrated and non-integrated organisations are waging a war against this societal ill which has plagued the African community; a line which goes in accordance with the words of Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director, UNFPA when he said, “Child marriage is an appalling violation of human rights and robs girls of their education, health and long-term prospects.” The quest to combat early child marriage especially in Sub-Saharan African countries has been on and it still beckons answers. Cameroon as one of the Sub-Saharan countries officially recognized as the Republic of Cameroon, is a country in central Africa, bordered by Nigeria to the west and by Chad Republic in the northeast, with a total population of about 26,138,966 people according to the recent census of the United Nations, with the males making up a total of 50.01% and the females making up 49.99% of the total population. 31% of girls in Cameroon are married before the age of 18, while 10% are married before the age of 15, with high occurrence in the two states of Adamawa and Extreme Nord. Despite the many measures put in place to silence this malpractice, there are a number of predisposing factors that makes the ending of child marriage in Cameroon, a task as difficult as “getting blood from a stone.”
What are the causes of early marriages?
- Gender Inequality: Generally, child marriage is driven by the belief that girls are somehow inferior to boys and can only have a complete identity when they get married.
- Poverty: As archaic as it may sound, some regions of Cameroon still practice child marriage on the basis of poverty. girls under 18 from poor households in Cameroon are more likely to get married five times more than girls from the richest homes.While it is a customary belief to receive “bride price”of a lady when getting married, in the case of an early marriage, it can be seen as some form of payment or re-compensation.
- Limited awareness: A 2015 study shows that many girls are unaware of the harmful consequences of child marriage, and instead know more about the traditional and religious norms that makes it legal.
- Traditional and Religious norms: While poverty was mentioned as a factor driving child marriage in the Extreme North according to a research conducted by the Institut Supérieur du Sahel at the University of Maroua (Cameroon), in partnership with Association de Lutte Contre Les Violences Faites Aux Femmes (ALVF-EN), supported by IWHC, traditional and cultural norms were mentioned as the key driver (41% of respondents). The rationale for this is because, marriage is seen as a girl’s life purpose. A young single woman is perceived negatively.
- In many communities in the Adamawa Region (the North and the Extreme North of Cameroon), marriage honours the whole family. In Muslim families, the daughter’s marriage is often organized by the parents, who buy gifts and supplies for the bride’s new family. According to Fulani cultural practice, the family must prove that the girl is a virgin on the wedding day. If that is the case, the in-laws provide more gifts. With all these boundaries, rules and cut out life for the girl child, the close of early marraige seem to be a far-fetched reality.
while there maybe a thousand and one reasons that promote the growth and rapid spread of this unwanted practice, there are several ways to combat this societal ill which had eaten deep within the fabrics of the Cameroonian society. no matter how widely spread this practice still hovers within the far north region of Cameroon, the question still remains:
How to combat this practice in Cameroon??
There has to be a melange of various strategies to successfully erradicate the practice of early marriage over time. Consistency and a “holistic” approach are the top ingredients needed to make this come true.
Increase the girl Child’s access to education, as well as a comprehensive sexuality education
Young girls, especially those living in poverty and whom are most at risk of early and forced marriage, should have better and easy access to education. The government should improve educational equity so that young Cameroonian girls can enroll and stay in school, by offering free primary and secondary education or by providing academic scholarships. Other measures should be taken by the state to sensitize parents to invest in their daughters’ education. In addition, school curricula should raise awareness on the current laws on marriage, as well as the dangers of the practice. Comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) that includes lessons on gender equality, power in sexual relations, and sexual and reproductive health and rights should be introduced at thw foundational level for the Girl child to be mentally equip to resist any form of abuse. To prevent early and forced marriage, the Cameroonian school system should revise school curricula to include CSE, develop teacher training and support, and organize educational talks on these issues in schools and communities.
Create a national monitoring service against early and forced marriage
A national monitoring service that monitors and regulates early child marriage should be set up both in the risk areas of the Republic of Cameroon as well ad other areas which are less at risk to prevent rapid spread. It should specialize in children’s and girls’ rights, and to track early and forced marriage would be key to develop a better understanding of the practice and the effectiveness of prevention initiatives. The objective would be to collect reliable information on early and forced marriage to disseminate to those working in the field, policy makers, community leaders, teachers, the media, and other key stakeholders.
Establish a platform for agencies and organizations fighting the practice
Very few government agencies or nongovernmental organizations are currently undertaking initiatives to end early and forced marriage. The government has not committed to develop civil servants’ capacity to prevent the practice, which hinders progress. The lack of synergy between civil society organizations concerned with the issue makes strategizing difficult. Pooling skills and expertise, developing a coalition of stakeholders, and encouraging strong governmental responses are key to effectively addressing the practice.
Today, Cameroon became the 16th country to launch the African Union campaign to end child marriage in Africa, ramping up its efforts to end a practice that affects 38% of girls in the country. The government were joined by UNFPA, UNICEF, Canadian High Commission, National Human Rights Commission, and other civil society organisations at the launch. The Minister for Women’s Development and the Family joined over 100 local girls in singing in a choir to celebrate the African Union campaign to end child marriage. This is thanks to organisations like Girls Not Bride in Cameroon who wage an endless fight against Early marriage.
Over 100 local girls sing ‘We Are Girls, Not Brides’ anthem alongside the Minister for Women’s Development and the Family at the AU Campaign launch to End Child Marriage today in Cameroon. Photo credit: Justina Kwachu
Not forgetting the all-powerful effect the media has on its users, it plays a huge role in the dissemination of information and altering behaviour. A national campaign, including mass media such as radio and television programs and commercials, as well as outreach to community, religious, and traditional leaders, should be organized. This study clearly demonstrates that early and forced marriage is a destructive and pervasive practice driven in part by a lack of information and awareness. And as such both public amd private media organ should be fully involved in the process of eradicating early marriage in the country Cameroon.
Enterpreneurial Forums and Performance Appraisal of “the girl child”:
Dating back to the prime causes of early marriages in Cameroon, poverty and gender inequality stands at the helm. “The girl child” by African tradition has been branded as the most vulnerable of the sexes and a gender of no identity if not attached to the man. These dogma as I would call, has left a message of worthlessness and less self confidence in the sub_concious of “the girl child”. Reasons being that most of the girls who are not exposed to a sensitized and educated environment, with a social status which is most convenient, always feel their ultimate destination is marriage; a common thought amongst poor Cameroonian girls.