CSOs and the Fight to End Child Marriage in West Africa

CSOs and the Fight to End Child Marriage in West Africa

Child marriages are intense in low and middle-income countries. Some of the highest rates are found in Sub-Saharan Africa. West Africa has one of the highest rates of early and forced marriage. UNICEF global database report (2017) reveals Niger has a prevalence rate of 76 per cent followed by Chad, Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea with 67, 55, 52 and 43 per cent respectively. These West African countries are also among the countries in the world that account for the highest Total Fertility Rates (TFRs) on the continent. With an internationally recognised goal of ending child marriage by 2030 and the African Union Campaign to end child marriage, most civil society organisations (CSOs) working on child marriage issues in West Africa are intensifying their efforts in the fight against child marriage. 

The Role of CSOs in curbing child marriage in West Africa 

Given the surge of the child marriage phenomenon, the role of CSOs is crucial in the fight. CSOs are closer to the masses and play a critical role in aligning their efforts with international and national action plans to end child marriage. CSOs should continue to collaborate, share and learn best practices from technical, financial and development partners, religious and traditional leaders, community-based organisations, academic and research institutions to avoid duplication of efforts. For CSOs’ role to be effective, all proposed interventions must be well-coordinated, comprehensive (covering a range of psychosocial and economic drivers) and adequately resourced with a focus on empowering young girls and reintegrating child marriage victims/ survivors into society. CSOs can take on a number of actions to scale up their contributions to end the child marriage menace in the region.

Awareness-raising: CSOs should continually and consciously educate, sensitize and create public awareness on the effects and risk relating to child marriage. CSOs should raise public awareness and campaigns to end child marriage using the media/ social media, outreaches at mosques, churches and communities. Public sensitisation should take place in both the urban and rural areas. Furthermore, CSOs should educate citizens on the health effects of early and forced marriage. Young girls who have been victims can share their experiences with other young girls, families and people in the communities. Public awareness creation, campaigns, education and sensitisation should focus on educating the citizens to change their perceptions, behaviours and attitudes towards girls and women in the society. Moreover, during these sensitisation activities, laws regarding child rights issues and their sexuality should be articulated. People should be schooled on the legal age of marriage and the fact that marrying young girls before the legal age is a criminal offence punishable by law.

Intensify advocacy efforts: CSOs should intensify advocating for policy reforms and comprehensive legislation that promote child rights and protection. Activists can advocate for the clarification of ambiguous legislations between religious, customary and civil marriages. They should demand the official registration of all marriages and advocate for law enforcement in communities.

In addition, CSOs should campaign for the same minimum legal age of marriage for both female and male. Parental consent and other exceptions needed as a requirement for marriages below the legal age must be annulled. At both national and local levels, CSOs can organise forums with all stakeholders supportive of ending child marriage and raise awareness among them on the state of early and forced marriage in the country and the need to address it by embarking on policy reforms that seek to empower girls.

Provision of appropriate support: CSOs can provide service support interventions for adolescent girls, survivors, child wives and the family. Poverty is one underlying cause of child marriage globally. CSOs’ supportive interventions should seek to empower girls so they become economically equipped to be independent. Basic and secondary education should be accessible to young girls while child marriage victims/ survivors should be reintegrated into the educational system or in vocational training institutes. The creation of adolescent-friendly health services and youth counselling centres in local communities where the youth can get information about their reproductive health issues and support will be invaluable in bridging the information gap.

Engage relevant stakeholders: CSOs must constantly engage religious and traditional leaders, men and boys. The role of men is vital in our quest to end child marriage as they play key roles in the process; either as the men getting married to girls or being the men collecting the bride price (when it is being paid). In engaging these stakeholders, CSOs should seek to challenge the rationale for child marriage at the community level through education and open discussions. CSOs’ consultations and engagements with these stakeholders should lead to the creation of watchdog committees within communities that take preventive measure against child marriage practices. These committees could be made responsible for reporting child marriage cases in the communities to appropriate agencies in the communities.

In addition, traditional and religious leaders should be involved in measures to curb this practice. They have enormous potential to conscientise communities towards ending the practice. In Niger, Plan International (2012) reports working with Sultans in the Dossa area to eradicate child marriages. These men are highly revered and deal directly with communities and parents of child brides.

Knowledge Sharing: CSOs should always share knowledge on best approaches and practices that have worked in eliminating or reducing the practice of child marriage with other CSOs in the region. Although there are differences in context, basic information and activities can be adopted in child marriage programmes/projects. Dynamics in child marriages overtime should be documented by CSOs since academics and researchers can develop an interest in assessing these new paradigm shifts. This can lead to a pool of knowledge and resources that can inform a lasting solution to the menace.

Conclusion 

The perpetuation of child marriage affects everyone. It is expedient that all stakeholders redouble their efforts in the fight against child marriage. Eliminating child marriage by 2030 must be a priority for all; hence it should be a responsibility of everyone.

 

NOTE: Opinion expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the West Africa Civil Society Institute.

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FIIFI BOATENG

Fiifi is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Communications and Information Officer at the West Africa Civil Society Institute. He joined the Institute in December 2020.

NANCY KANKAM KUSI

Nancy is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Programme Officer in the Knowledge Management unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute. She joined the Institute in January 2021.

AGNES ADWOA ANIMA

Agnes is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Head of the Administration unit in the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in October 2021.

DORIS ODEI

Doris holds a Bachelor of Arts in Social sciences (Economics and Sociology) from the University of Cape Coast. She is passionate about impacting young lives hence co-founded Impart Foundation. A non-profit organization which seeks to empower young lives through education, technology and entrepreneurship.

PRINCE AKOWUAH

Prince Akowuah is a Ghanaian and currently the Programme Assistant in the Translation Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.

MAXWELL APENTENG

Maxwell Apenteng is a Ghanaian and joined WACSI in September 2010. He provides gardening and janitorial services at the Institute.

GEORGE ADU-MINTAH

George Adu-Mintah is a Ghanaian and currently the Protocol Assistant/Driver at the West Africa Civil Society (WACSI). He joined the Institute in October 2006.

IBRAHIM KWAKU GBADAGO

Ibrahim Kwaku Gbadago is a Ghanaian. He joined the Institute in 2008 and provides janitorial services and assisting the institute's errands. Before joining the Institute, he worked at the Palestinian embassy in Accra, Ghana.

RUTH YAKANA

Ruth Yakana is from Cameroon and currently the Receptionist at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.

BETHEL KWAME BOATENG

Bethel is a Ghanaian. He provides technical and IT related support to the Institute. He joined the Institute in October 2006.

WHITNAY SEGNONNA

Whitnay Segnonna holds a Bachelor’s Degree in International Management from the University of Benin. With 2 years of experience, she has a strong knowledge of organizational and project management. Combined with her bilingualism, she is very passionate about her work. She joined WACSI as Project Assistant on Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) for the Capacity Development Unit.

STELLA YAWA WOWOUI

Stella Yawa Wowoui holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Translation Studies. She has a perfect grasp of both French and English, as well as an intermediate level in Spanish. She is currently working as a Project Assistant on the Techsoup Project.

KWAME ASANTE

Kwame is an experienced IT Consultant/Software Developer. He is skilled in Web Applications Development, Digital Security, Database Management, Digital Marketing and Brand Management. He holds a Bachelor's Degree in Information Technology and is a Microsoft Programme Alumni. He is currently serving as a Marketing and IT Officer on the Techsoup Project.

GRACE AKPENE ZIGGAH

Grace Akpene Ziggah is a Togolese and currently the Logistics Officer and also assists in administration duties at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in June 2009.

LILLIAN DAFEAMEKPOR

Lilian Dafeamekpor is a Ghanaian and currently the Assistant to the Executive Director at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.

JOHN P. FRINJUAH

John P. Frinjuah has expertise and interests in civil society, international development, democracy and governance, conflict, crisis, and security. He has extensive experience working with civil society and international development organizations where he supported and managed research, programmes, and provided technical assistance on a variety of themes around public policy, governance, and development. He is an alumnus of the University of Ghana and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy - Tufts University in the United States, with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from two institutions respectively. John speaks English, French and several Ghanaian and regional West Africa languages.

GERVIN CHANASE

Gervin has extensive international development experience, including 5 years of policy advocacy and capacity building of grass root organisations. He has implemented over the years a combination of agriculture value chain, livelihood, food security and governance and rights programmes.
Prior to joining WACSI, Gervin worked on two USAID projects focusing on agriculture value chain development and governance in northern Ghana
Gervin holds a master’s degree in development & Governance from the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany as well as a Masters in Global Studies from the Universities of Vienna (Austria), Leipzig (Germany) and California (Santa Barbara), USA. He is passionate social justice and inclusion.

LEANDRE BANON

Leandre Banon, Beninese, joined WACSI in September 2014 as Capacity Development Programme Assistant. Since then, he has worked in various units within the Institute to support operational and institutional capacity strengthening programmes for civil society in the region. Currently serving as Capacity Development Programme Officer at WACSI, his main responsibilities involve designing, planning, implementing and monitoring capacity development programmes for civil society constituents and grouping across the West Africa. Leandre is a certified Change the Game Academy Programme Trainer. His background lies in the areas of economics and development planning.

SAMUEL APPIAH

Samuel Appiah is a Ghanaian and currently the Programme Officer in the Finance and Administrative Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). He joined the Institute in May, 2016.

JIMM CHICK FOMUNJONG

Jimm Chick Fomunjong, Cameroonian, joined WACSI in May 2018 as the Head of the Knowledge Management and Communication Units of the Institute. He has over ten years’ experience as a journalist and a development communications expert. He has a vast experience in supporting African organisations to strengthen their internal and external communications, building and sustaining relationships with the media and, leveraging on the power of social media to promote their mission. He is also excellent at supporting organisations to set up and operationalise functional communications and knowledge management systems. He has a deep passion and expertise in supporting Africans and African civil society organisations to document their praxis, share and learn from experiences documented from the African civil society sector.

FRANCK A. SOMBO

Franck Sombo is a development practitioner with the drive to lead self and others to influence productivity and efficiency. His work involves supporting organisations to develop strategic plans, design monitoring and evaluation systems, develop and use relevant performance measurement tools to track progress, assess organizational growth and institutionalise learning. Franck has eight years of experience working with WACSI where he currently serves as the Head, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning. His academic qualifications include Masters in Organisations’ and Projects’ Management, and in Business Sciences and a High National Diploma in Finance and Accounting.

Franck is a Fellow of the International Program for Development Evaluation Training (IPDET) and a graduate of the Graduate Training Institute (GTI) - Ghana with specialization in Strategic Management and Corporate Leadership. He has a rich experience in Project Management, Capacity Development, Strategic planning, Data Analytics, Monitoring and Evaluation, Training and Facilitation, Mentoring and Coaching among others.

OMOLARA T. BALOGUN

Omolara is a development practitioner and advocacy strategist with over 10 years progressive experience in development programming targeted at strengthening civil society in West Africa. She joined WACSI in November 2009 as an Advocacy Consultant. And later became the first Policy Advocacy Officer in 2010 and Head of Policy Influencing and Advocacy unit in 2015. As head, she offers strategic direction to the institutes’ ambitions to connect and convene groups of organized and organic civil society actors; and influence regional and global discourses on crosscutting policy issues including—civil society regulations, sustainable development goals, civic space and enabling environment, aid effectiveness, gender equality.


Previously, Omolara served as a Service Development Marshal at TVQ Consulting Group, a customer service firm focused on designing strategic customer relationship and business growth plans for private and public financial institutions in Nigeria. She also served as a Programmes Associate with the Women in Peace and Security Network-Africa where she teamed up to design and implement two programmes on—multidimensional peace support operations and gender mainstreaming in security sector reform in Ghana, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

KWABENA KRODUAH

Kwabena Kroduah is a Ghanaian and currently heads the Finance Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). He joined the Institute in January 2008.

CHARLES KOJO VANDYCK

Charles currently serves as the Head of the Capacity Development Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). Charles has over 10 years of experience working in international development and social justice issues in Africa. Charles has expertise in strengthening civil society and public agencies including the design and implementation of governance and leadership programmes, development of knowledge pieces and policy advice. Charles was the founding Board Chair of Innovation for Change (i4C)-Hub Afrique, as well as the founding member of the International Consortium on Closing Civic Space (iCon), an initiative of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC. Charles currently serves as the Member of the Governing Board (Coordination Collective) of Africans Rising. He is a Member of the Development Studies Association, United Kingdom. Charles is a 2017 Stanford University Fellow for Nonprofit Leaders and a certified Change the Game Resource Mobilisation Trainer.

NANA ASANTEWA AFADZINU

Nana Afadzinu is a Ghanaian and currently serves as the Executive Director of the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in October 2010.