|November 1st, 2017
In a potentially significant population-related development, political leaders, activists, and local chiefs from West and Central Africa have met to commit to ending child marriage — this in a region with among the world’s highest birth rates and where more than a third of girls are married under the age of 18. In six of the countries over 50 percent are child brides and in one case, Niger, 76 percent are. (UNICEF defines child marriage as a union – formal or informal – before the age of 18).
A UNICEF official at the meeting noted that, while child marriage had declined from 50 to 39 percent in the region since 1990, population growth meant that the practice was still increasing (see article). It is estimated that at current rates, ending child marriage will take more than 100 years to achieve in West and Central Africa, despite the targeted global United Nations sustainable development goal of achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment, including the elimination of the practice of child marriage, by 2030.
That West and Central African leaders have met for the first time to address child marriage in the region is good news. But, as noted by Senegal’s Prime Minister, who attended the meeting, “the problem is how to move from vision to action.” PIC recalls that at a meeting in South Africa two years ago, the UN warned that child marriages were “set to soar” on the continent, and more than double by 2050, largely due to Africa’s relentlessly sky-rocketing population growth.
PIC agrees with advocates who warn that it will take no less than a socio-cultural movement of major proportions to end child marriage since the practice is deeply ingrained, driven by factors including poverty, insecurity, and religious tradition. We therefore contend that it is important that we, as a society, and Canada as a donor country, strongly oppose child brides as one of the most effective means of advancing global efforts to reduce poverty and population growth while enhancing human rights and gender equity.
Even modest success would substantially improve the outlook on women’s and children’s health, educational achievements and earnings and, by extension, the standards of living in the countries concerned.