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Early Child Marriage and its Impact on the African Girl-Child

Globally, we can sense a new wave of feminism and female emancipation. In every corner of the world, figures like Malala Yousafzai and Jaya Dukureh are standing up and are letting the world know of the injustices girls and women face. From female genital mutilation, to child marriage, to the lack of educational and job opportunities, an average African girl-child faces many obstacles and disadvantages because of her gender.

In many African cultures and societies, the main role of and the greatest ambition for girls and women is to get married and have children. It is only logical to think that the sooner a girl gets married, the better. Unfortunately, girls and their bodies are not mature and grown enough to endure sex, pregnancy and the pain of childbirth which can cause the girl to lose her life. Young girls are often married to older men, some of whom could be their fathers. In this type of relationship it is very easy for a man, especially in a patriarchal society, to dominate and subjugate his wife. She will not be able to counter attack possible physical and psychological abuses which will have an impact on her well-being.

Besides, being a “respectable” wife and mother means that the girl-child will have to take care of her husband, children and household 24/7, thus leaving her virtually no time to pursue her studies. We know for a fact that education is very important, even more so in a girl’s life. Education provides girls and women with more and better life opportunities. It helps them develop their critical thinking and it is responsible for a girl’s mental and financial independence. In the case of girl-children who are married at a young age, losing their man will have a detrimental effect on them. Men already have shorter lives than women, and since their husbands are usually many years older than them, the risk of losing their only source of income and sustenance is even higher.

In my own family, many of my aunties and my mother included were married before the age of 18. My mother told me that if she could go back in time, she would study more and marry later. It is absolutely necessary to tackle this issue; this is why the eahrhi works towards this goal. Girl-children futures and health are at stake due to this phenomenon and our purpose is to condemn and eliminate all forms of injustices and atrocities done to African girls.

Two years ago, on the night of April 14 and 15, more than 200 girls were abducted by terror group Boko Haram. The name itself means “education is forbidden” which only reinforces the idea that African girl-children should not be allowed to study. The kidnapping gained major media coverage and people all over the world shared their concerns and prayers through #BringBackOurGirls. For Nigerian girls in particular and African girls in general, this is yet another blow to their emancipation. Parents are understandably reluctant to send their daughters to school fearing something similar may happen again. Unfortunately, this limit the already scarce possibilities African girls have to get an education.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said: “Because I am female, I’m expected to aspire to marriage. I’m expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. But why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same? We raise girls to see each other as competitors, not for jobs or for accomplishments, but for the attention of men.” It is deplorable to raise girls in this way. Their value and purpose in life are reduced to them becoming good wives and mothers when in actuality they could become everything they set up their minds to.

In order for Africa to grow and develop into a world power we have to create favorable conditions in which girls and women can thrive, flourish, discover their skills and put their full potential into work. As Thomas Sankara said “women hold up the other half of the sky” so our education, liberation and emancipation will benefit all of us.

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