Time to stop child marriages

Ugandans should be horrified by a recent report by a UK-based Overseas Development Institute, which indicates that girls as young as 13 years are forced by parents to drop out of school and married off to raise bride wealth. This was proven to be the case in Mayuge and Sembabule districts. But the same fate plagues young girls countrywide. The report also says three of every 10 girls are forced into marriage.
This act of turning little girls into wives is wrong and violates the law. Worse still, it is promoted by parents who should safeguard girls to be girls and not force them into becoming premature brides. What is more, this situation forces girls, especially from very poor households, into high vulnerability. The girls remain poor, and are exposed to unequal household and family relations and are deprived of bargaining power. They are also denied ready access to adolescent-friendly health information and services. This also exposes them to unwanted pregnancies, HIVAids and other sexually transmitted illnesses. They also suffer physical and sexual violence.
These ills should be stopped because our laws are very clear on rights of children and marriage. Article 34 sets the age of children up to 16, and gives them rights to be protected by the State and parents. Similarly, Article 31(1)(a) and (b) of the 1995 Constitution clearly sets age for marriage at 18 years. As a quick fix, constitutional guarantee of 18 years as age of marriage should be enforced and defilement punished to ensure rights of adolescent girls to remain unmarried enforced. And any infringement of these rights should be punishable.
But only an all-involving approach should stop all these ills. This implies Ugandans heed recommendations of the report. Outside of parental pressure, early marriages are rooted in societal norms and practices. This means no headway can be made unless an all-inclusive approach ties in policy makers, health and community workers, teachers, cultural, religious, and local leaders, men as well as women and the girls. These would all work together to discourage social values and cultural norms that promote child marriage and early child-bearing.
As Ubos 2012 report indicates, teenagers from poorest households are more prone to pregnancy at 34 per cent more than double the chances of their counterparts from wealthier families. Another solution would be to raise young girls’ educational attainment level so they are kept longer at school. In sum, these increase access to reproductive health information and services, including family planning, and stops little girls being forced to become wives.

SOURCE: Daily Monitor


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