Covid crisis leaves half a million African girls at risk of pregnancy

The 2021 Economic Survey by Kenya National Bureau of Statistics showed a total of 332,208 girls aged 10-19 years got pregnant in 2020,a drop from 396,929 the previous year.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The highest number of girls affected are likely to be in East and Southern Africa, followed by West and Central Africa.
  • According to Save the Children’s new projections, more than 600,000 additional girls in Africa are also at risk of child marriage in the next five years.

An estimated additional 543,000 girls in Africa face the risk of adolescent pregnancy due to the economic fallout from Covid-19.

The highest number of girls affected are likely to be in East and Southern Africa, followed by West and Central Africa. According to Save the Children’s new projections, more than 600,000 additional girls in Africa are also at risk of child marriage in the next five years.

The projections also indicate that West and Central Africa regions are home to six of the 10 countries with the highest child marriage prevalence globally of over 50 per cent. About 22 million child brides live in Nigeria alone, accounting for 40 per cent of all child brides in the region.

Niger, which has the highest prevalence in the world, has 4.1 million child brides. Across Africa, 125 million girls and women get married before their 18th birthday.

In 2017, Unicef reported that more than one in three young women in Africa were married in childhood, and one in 10 before their 15th birthday. The projections are contained in the latest report titled Protect Rights and Empower Girls: Beyond Awareness on Ending Child Marriage by African Union (AU) Goodwill Ambassador on Ending Child Marriage Nyaradzayi Gumbonvanda.

Dr Gumbonvanda observes that children that enter into marriage are faced with challenging situations that mainly violate their human rights and well-being. She adds that such children are normally deprived of many rights that they should ordinarily enjoy.

“In most cases, they are sexually, physically, and verbally abused. Some children are forced out of school and denied going back to school, which is a fundamental right,” Dr Gumbonvanda says in the report.

Despite the gloom, Dr Gumbonvanda notes that there have been several achievements in the AU campaign on ending child marriage. This is facilitated by the appointment of former Zambian President Edgar Lungu as the presidential champion on ending child marriage on the continent.

“There is evidence of sustained public awareness, visibility, and interest on issues of ending child marriage, resulting in the national launches or strategies on ending child marriage, female genital mutilation and sexual and gender-based violence in several African countries,” she adds.

The goodwill ambassador, however, warns that if the current trends are not reversed, the world will not achieve gender equality and the global target of ending child marriages by 2030 as set under the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

To help reverse the situation, she has recommended several initiatives including periodic hosting of the African Girls Summit and capacity building program with governments and media.

In response to the growing phenomena of child marriage the African Union launched the Campaign on Ending Child Marriage in 2014.

The objective of the campaign is to accelerate child marriage programs in member states by ensuring enforcement of laws and access to justice, providing access to cross-sectorial service to include referral pathways.

It is also aimed at mobilising communities to change negative social and gender norms, as well as strengthening evidence and data generation to inform policy and programming.

With the launch of the campaign, the AU immediately appointed the goodwill ambassador, the special rapporteur on child marriage and the presidential champion on ending child marriage to support advocacy, monitoring, and accountability of the continental commitment.

The AU is also implementing an ambitious programme, dubbed Spotlight Initiative, to end all forms of violence against women and girls by 2030 with an emphasis on child marriage.

Besides community campaigns, the initiative, which was launched in 2017, seeks to strengthen legislation and policies of member states. It is also assisting in the generation of quality and reliable data to support the fight.

The €500 million programme is being supported by the European Union and the United Nations (UN). It involves deploying targeted, large-scale investments in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, and the Pacific to empower, promote, and protect the rights of women and girls.

In Africa, it seeks to eliminate sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), including harmful practices, and will scale up existing initiatives on fighting female genital mutilation and child marriage.

Unicef indicates that about 14 million adolescent and teen girls are married yearly, majority of whom are forced into the arrangement by their parents. The highest number of these child brides are in Africa.

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