By Felogene Anumo*
Last week I joined thousands of maternal and child health advocates at the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH) Partners’ Forum in Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg. The gathering and robust discussions breathed life into the African Proverb: It takes a village to raise a child by, providing linkages between child marriage and preventable maternal mortality. The various stakeholders present called for ambitious and transformative commitments in order to realize the potential to be the ‘village’ that ends early, forced and child marriages in one generation, as this majorly contributes to preventable newborn deaths and maternal mortality.
Until Death Do Us Apart: Facts and Figures
- One in three girls in the developing world will be married by their eighteenth birthday. This can end their chance of completing an education and puts them at greater risk of isolation and violence.
- One in seven girls in the developing world will be married before they are 15, some as young as five years old.
- Every year, 70,000 girls die in labour because their young bodies just aren’t ready for childbirth. Girls younger than 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s. Pregnancy is consistently among the leading causes of death for girls ages 15 to 19 worldwide.
- Child brides face a higher risk of contracting HIV because they often marry an older man with more sexual experience. Girls ages 15 – 19 are 2 to 6 times more likely to contract HIV than boys of the same age in sub-Saharan Africa.
Pledge to End Early, Forced and Child Marriage
To achieve a truly transformational post 2015 development agenda, governments and nations must commit to end early and forced marriage which contributes to driving girls into a cycle of poverty and powerlessness. It demands partnerships across government, communities, cultural leaders and the civil society. It calls upon the various stakeholders to commit to playing their part in end early, forced and child marriage by increasing public awareness on the crucial role that child marriage prevention and support to child brides can play in improving the health of millions of women and girls. Moreover, this commitment must be followed by concerted political action at all levels. The world must not squander this opportunity!
It’s simple. If we want to improve the health of millions of women and children worldwide, we must prevent child marriage and support girls who are already married. Mrs. Graca Machel sums it up perfectly, “Traditions are man-made, and traditions can change. More importantly, harmful traditions like child marriage MUST change.”