Despite international agreements and national laws, child marriage is common worldwide and affects millions. This prevents girls from obtaining an education, enjoying optimal health, bonding with others their own age, maturing, and ultimately choosing their own life partners.
Studies have shown that the practice has many effects on girls’ health which include increased risk for sexually transmitted diseases, cervical cancer, malaria, death during childbirth, and obstetric fistulas. Girls’ offspring are also at increased risk for premature birth and death as neonates, infants, or children.
In The Gambia, several mechanisms have been put in place by the government to discourage the practice and the First Lady continues to be a strong advocate for the welfare of Gambian children and women in particular. Therefore, we couldn’t agree more with her that extra efforts are needed to speed up the pace of progress in the fight.
For a start, educating girls is one of the most powerful tools to prevent child marriage because it provides them with the quality services to increase their opportunities of a better future. The Gambia government has seen this reality and for better part of the Second Republic, girls’ education is free. The President’s Empowerment of Girls Education Project (PEGEP) and the Miss July 22nd Beauty Pageant are both schemes designed to empower the girl child.
It is again gratifying to note that in an attempt to overcome the challenges of child marriage, the Office of the First Lady has disclosed plans to work with both local and foreign partners to break the barriers.
So as the government puts up policies and programmes to raise awareness in our communities, local and religious leaders should also join the bandwagon and re-educate parents that gone are the days when girls are regarded as commodities and forced to marry at a young age.