Child marriage has dramatic health consequences for girls and closely linked with early pregnancy. Estimates indicate that nine out of ten births to adolescent mothers in developing countries occur within marriage or within a union. They are major factors for high maternal and child mortality in the region. West and Central Africa have some of the highest adolescent birth rates in the world, with an estimated 28% of young women in the region giving birth before the age of 18 and 6% before the age of 15.
Furthermore, girls face a range of health risks such as obstetric fistula, and complications from early pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death. Child brides are less likely to use contraceptives, which can lead to shorter birth spacing. Ensuring access to youth friendly sexual and reproductive health education and services will help reduce risks linked to early pregnancy. Child marriage practices infringe on the educational attainment of girls and their children and significantly affect their expected earnings and household welfare later in their lives. In addition to increasing girls’ vulnerability, child marriages have significant economic costs for girls, their families and economies in the long-run.
Child marriage will cost West and Central African countries tens of billions of dollars by 2030, according to a research by the World Bank funded by the Global Partnership for Education and the Children Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF). The cost of not educating girls at the secondary level will be even higher. Ending child marriage and enabling girls to complete their secondary education would contribute to women having fewer children and having them later in life. This will also increase women’s expected earnings in adulthood, improve household welfare and reduce health risks for young children.
As stated by The Economic Impacts of Child Marriage project Report, despite all the ongoing work on the issue, the prevalence of child marriage in West and Central Africa continues to increase in the past 25 years. In 22 West and Central African countries for which detailed analysis was conducted, on average 39 percent of women aged 18-22 married as children, and 30 percent had their first child before the age of 18 according to the latest available household surveys. According to Girls Not Brides 2017 Advocacy Brief, in countries where the minimum age for marriage is not set at 18, laws need to be adopted specifying 18 as the minimum age for marriage, eliminating exceptions with parental or judicial consent for minors, and harmonizing discrepancies with customary and religious laws when such disparities exist. Also, minimum age requirements are ignored, even though they are enshrined in law in these countries. While implementing legal reforms to protect girls from child marriage is important, this will not be sufficient to end the practice. Legal reforms setting the legal age for marriage at 18 or higher and eliminating parental or judicial exceptions must be accompanied by a wide range of additional policies and interventions. These policies must be grounded at the community level where these practices are rooted.
Even though considerable progress has been made so far in the region, there is a need to build a stronger synergy of action to take place at national and regional level. These synergies involve the inclusion of a large diversity of voices (Government, Civil Society Organisations, traditional and regional leaders) managed effectively.
The West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI) in partnership with Girls Not Brides (GNB) and with support from Ford Foundation is to strengthening the capacity of civil society organisations, networks and coalitions working on child marriage in West Africa through trainings network building and advocacy.
The convenings which held in Bamako and Niamey from December 10-11 and 13-14 respectively brought together members of civil society groups working towards ending child marriage known as national coalition in Mali and national platform in Niger. The meeting attracted 20 participants in Mali and 17 participants in Niger including local non-government organisation (from the regions and capital), representatives from INGOs, ministry of women and children, women’s groups and national civil society umbrella group. In Mali, all the participants are members of the national platform on ending child marriage (REPAME) while in Niger, three organisations working on related issues joined the members of the national platform for the convening.