FGM, child marriages rising in drought-hit Horn of Africa

Across the region, women and girls in drought-affected areas have to walk longer distances to access water and other basic resources, leaving them vulnerable to sexual violence.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  •  Unicef has raised the red flag overrising cases of child marriage in the Horn of Africa, perpetuated by the ongoing drought.
  • The agency warns that girls as young as 12 years are being forced into child marriage and FGM.

The United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (Unicef) has raised the red flag over rising cases of child marriage in the Horn of Africa, perpetuated by the ongoing drought.

The UN agency warns that girls as young as 12 years are being forced into child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM) at “alarming rates” in the region, as the most severe drought in forty years pushes families to the edge.

A statement by the agency says child marriage has more than doubled within one year, in Ethiopia region, which is the most hit by the drought.

The organisation notes the number of children at risk of dropping out of school across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia has, as a result tripled, leaving vast numbers of adolescent girls at greater danger of risks, including undergoing FGM and being forced into marriage.

“We are seeing alarming rates of child marriage and FGM across the Horn of Africa – with some destitute families arranging to marry off girls as young as 12 to men more than five times their age,” says Andy Brooks, Unicef’s Regional Child Protection Advisor for Eastern and Southern Africa.

He observes that child marriage and FGM drive girls out of school, leaving them more vulnerable to domestic violence and a lifetime of poverty.

Climate change

“This is a children’s crisis, and we urgently need more funding to scale up our response in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia – not only to save lives in the short-term but to protect them in the long-term,” he adds in the statement.

Data on child marriage and FGM is limited due to a lack of reporting and services in the region. Across the Horn of Africa, families are facing desperate choices to survive drought that is driven by climate change.

More than 1.8 million children are in desperate need of treatment for acute malnutrition in the region, with 213,000 people now said to be at risk of famine in Somalia, according to the Famine Early Warning Network.

Growing numbers of parents or caregivers are marrying off girls to secure dowry to support the rest of the family, have one less mouth to feed, or in an attempt to help the bride enter a better-off household.

The crisis has also driven people out of their homes, including community and social workers that were supporting families to protect girls from child marriage and FGM.  

An assessment done of Somaliland in January, said almost a quarter of people interviewed reported a rise in gender-based violence (GBV) due to drought, including child marriage, domestic violence, and sexual violence, with increases of more than 50 per cent in some locations.

Another assessment of humanitarian needs in Puntland in February, found that child marriage accounted for 59 per cent of cases reported to service providers, many of which also involved FGM.

Similarly in Kenya, girls are facing greater risks of child marriage and FGM with 14 of the 23 counties affected by drought being FGM hotspots, with prevalence rates of up to 98 per cent.

Across the region, women and girls in drought-affected areas have to walk longer distances to access water and other basic resources, leaving them vulnerable to sexual violence.




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