By Peter Kabuye
In recent years, child marriage has gained the limelight worldwide. According to UNICEF, 40% of girls in Uganda are married before their eighteenth birthday and one in ten is married before the age of fifteen hence having their childhoods cut short. A 2017 World Bank study shows that ending child marriage in Uganda could generate USD 514 million in earnings. Ending this evil requires work across all sectors and at all levels. It requires us to understand the complex drivers behind the practice in different contexts and adapt our interventions accordingly.
Empower girls with information, skills and support networks through education. Every girl has the right to decide her own future, who and when to marry but not everyone knows this. When confident in their abilities, armed with knowledge of their rights and supported by their peers, they are able to fight against this injustice. The longer girls stay in school, the less likely they are to be married before the age of eighteen. In addition, education ensures girls acquire the skills and knowledge to find employment and a means to support their families. This can help break the cycle of poverty and prevent child marriages that occur as a result of extreme poverty.
Girls living in Uganda’s poorest households marry at a younger age than those living in the richest households. Some parents see their daughters as a source of wealth as they can fetch bride price from their husbands’ families when they marry. Providing economic support and incentives to girls and their families with livelihood opportunities like microfinance loans is an effective way to prevent child marriages that occur as a result of poverty. When families have increased economic opportunities, they’re less likely to perceive their daughters as economic burdens.
In many Ugandan cultures, pre- marital pregnancy is associated with embarrassment, disgrace and curse, which drives some girls to marry. At its heart, child marriage happens because communities do not value girls as much as boys. Parents and community leaders are often responsible for deciding when and whom a girl marries. In many traditional communities, it’s believed that marriage keeps girls safe, protected and economically provided for by their husbands. However, the opposite is true, marriage endangers girls’ physical and mental health. When parents and community leaders are educated about the many negative consequences of child marriage, it can inspire them to change their views, speak up for girls’ rights and encourage others to do the same.
Encourage supportive legislation and enforcement of laws and policies with an aim of ending child marriage. In Uganda where child marriage is prevalent, petitioning government to strictly enforce the law of minimum age for marriage of 18 years is a critical first step for positive change. Other legal policies, such as registering birth certificates and marriages, are powerful tools for preventing child marriage.
The writer is a student of Dental Surgery
Uganda Christian University