Africa is home to 130 million child brides, both girls under the age of 18 who have already married and adult women who were married as children.
Today, UNICEF launched continental and regional reports on child marriage and female genital mutilation in Africa.
The reports provide updates on the status of these practices and call on governments and regional institutions to accelerate efforts and to increase domestic resources to end child marriage and female genital mutilation, in line with the African Union Agenda 2063 and 2030 global agenda for sustainable development.
The regional and global priorities are underscored by the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Child marriage and female genital mutilation are a violation of children’s rights. Yet, in many communities across the continent, girls continue to be at risk of one or both practices.
Child marriage is present throughout the continent, with the highest levels across the Sahel and in pockets of Central and Eastern Africa. Nine out of ten countries with the highest levels of child marriage in the world are in sub–Saharan Africa, including respectively Niger, the Central African Republic, Chad, Mali, Mozambique, Burkina Faso, South Sudan, Guinea and Nigeria.
Nearly 140 million girls and women in Africa have undergone female genital mutilation, of which over 40 million also experienced child marriage.
“Ending child marriage is a key priority for UNICEF. To accelerate efforts, we need to invest in areas for high impact, notably reducing poverty as a main driver of child marriage, ensuring girls’ access to quality education and learning at scale and social and behaviour change in favour of girls’ and women’s full and active participation in social and economic life.
Multi-sectoral and contextualised interventions are needed given the higher prevalence of child marriage in rural areas, among the poorest households and among those with little or no education.
We need ‘business unusual’ to shift the needle on child marriage and help ensure girls’ and women’s rights are protected,” said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa.
Some countries in Africa have made great progress in reducing child marriage, while others have seen stagnation. Conflict, climate change and COVID-19, which together have interrupted education and created economic shocks, have put more women and girls at risk of child marriage as some parents turn to it to cope with the effect of crises.
This year’s commemoration of the international Day of the African Child on 16 June is themed: “Eliminating Harmful Practices Affecting Children: Progress on Policy and Practice since 2013.”
Data shows that at continental level, Africa continues to lag in progress towards meeting the targets of the Sustainable Development Goal 5.3 to eliminate all harmful practices by 2030.
If progress is not accelerated, an additional 45 million girls in sub-Saharan Africa will become child brides in the next decade, driven by slow progress and demographic growth.
“As African governments assess both what has been invested in and what remains to be done to eliminate child marriage and female genital mutilation, increasing domestic resources to tackle harmful practices is imperative for success.
This will give every child on the continent a better chance to have the childhood they deserve and to which they are so much entitled,” said Mohamed M. Malick Fall, UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa.
The concerted interventions such as the UNICEF-UNFPA Global/joint Programme to eliminate child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM), the African Union campaign to end child marriage and FGM (Saleema Initiative) as well as the Spotlight Initiative are more critical than ever to the successful elimination of harmful practices on the continent.
To accelerate action on improving child rights in Africa, UNICEF calls on Governments and all stakeholders:
- To recommit and accelerate the implementation of the commitments to help develop and realise children’s full potential;
- To scale up response to the continent’s emerging child rights challenges through laws and policies that protect children, research and joint advocacy, and stronger oversight by parliaments;
- To increase investment in child protection programmes to prevent and respond to all forms of violence, abuse, and exploitation;
- To promote inclusivity and reach every child, especially those who are often overlooked, including children with special needs, those from disadvantaged backgrounds, and those living in rural areas in the spirit of leaving no one behind;
- To strength continental institutions to build stronger child protection, health, education, and social protection systems;
- To adopt whole-of-society approach – including the participation of children and their communities for catalysing change for children.
“Without community engagement and including traditional leaders to drive the technical interventions, it will not be possible to changes the social norms that promote child marriage and other harmful practices.
We need stronger civil society organizations, traditional leaders and community-based structures that reinforce the child protection system and protect girls and boys from violence, exploitation, abuse, and harmful practices,” said Dr. Edward Addai, UNICEF Representative to the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.