In Ghana child marriage is a traditional practice found in almost every tribe. It has been established and practiced for decades and now seen even by this current generation as nothing “so-evil”.
However, straying from this established practice and tradition may not be very easy as young girls continue to fall to men’s sexual desires.
The Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF) was right to describe the situation as endemic and called for action by government, Parliament and civil society to stop early and forced marriages in Ghana.
It is said, the practice of early and forced marriages was not foreign but something that was pervasive in the country and less discussed. Though early and forced marriage before the age of 18 violates the Constitution of the Republic and other international human rights conventions, nothing is done to put a stop to the practice.
It is said that majority of women in marriage today in Ghana were once either “child brides” or were forced into marriages owing to this tradition and culture, however, there is no official statistics to back this claim though.
In many communities where child marriage is still being practiced, a girl’s education often ends abruptly aside abuses and molestation they suffer from. They are also not valued as much as boys.
The continuous desire for young girls or virgins as brides is not only inimical to their development, but also it affects their education too. Based on the notion that a girl belongs elsewhere prevents majority of families from educating their girl children.
“The pride of being called an in-law and some religious and traditional beliefs push families to give out their girl children for marriage. This is largely as a result of ignorance” says, Mr. Abdul-Imoro Rashid an expert in Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR).
“Parents often overlooked the consequences these young girls go through in marriage and as a result, these child brides suffer emotional and physical trauma”, he added. The trauma child bride goes through are enormous but often condoned by parents.
Majority of child-brides are victims of Obstetric fistula, the most devastating and serious of all childbirth injuries, birth complications, rape and defilement among other sexual molestation.
Mr. Rashid agreed that intensive education to influence attitudes of parents, community and religious leaders is one way of eliminating child marriages or re-enforcing girl child education.
“Savana Signatures as an ICT4D is currently using Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to influence young girls in Ghana to stay in school” says Augustine Adjie Opoku, project officer for Tech Girls.
Aside the Tech Girls project, Savana Signatures also instituted what he called ICT Clinic for Girls, an annual event that brings young girls in Ghana to learn and share experiences around the area of ICT and STEM . The girls are also given career guidance, and receive training in the use of ICT for personal and Professional development.
He says while efforts are being made at targeting parents to educate them on the need to educate girl children to obstruct early marriages, training, mentoring and inspiring young girls could motivate them to delay their desire to marry early.
The cultural set up of a Ghanaian society does not encourage female education and development. The physiological make ups of girls children do make them “less” important.
Poverty plays a critical role in this. Giving a girl in marriage is one way of shading off parental responsibility to feed, clothe and educate or train them. Bride prices also serve as an income stream for these poor families too. However, empowering girls through education is the only way society can empower women and reduce poverty among families and girls.
Dealing with child bride would need political will or policy framework to engage traditional and religious authorities who supervise these marriages to put a stop to the practice. There is also the need to draft bylaws that forbid parents from giving out young girls to marriage at school going age.