Moving Forward for Our Girls: Ending Child Marriage in West Africa

Moving Forward for Our Girls: Ending Child Marriage in West Africa

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Child marriage is the practice of parents marrying off their children under the age of 18, sometimes as young as 7 years old, because of tradition, culture, or financial issues within the home. The practice is a global phenomenon that affects millions of girls from all corners of the earth. The practice widely disenfranchises girls and prevents them from furthering their education, fabricating relationships with peers of their own age, forces them into motherhood before they are mentally and/or physically prepared, and puts them at boggling health risks that lead to death in many cases. Because of the practice girls are not only put in an intellectual deficit accompanied with a lack of social and emotional development, but the lives of both them and their offspring are put at great risk due to the circumstances these girls are compelled into against their will.

Child marriage is officially recognized as a health and human rights violation worldwide, and WACSI is strengthening the capacities of civil society organisations (CSOs) to be able to advocate for the rights and autonomy of girls inflicted by the practice in West African countries where child marriage is most prevalent.

In child marriages, many child brides do not know their spouse before they marry them, and some do not even see their future spouse until their wedding day. A lot of these weddings are pre-arranged even before birth. Some of the African countries with the highest rates of child marriage include Nigeria at 77%, Chad at 71%, Mali at 63%, Cameroon at 61%, and Mozambique at 57%. Half of the Ethiopian girls are married before the age of 15, and for Mali, 37% of girls are married by the age of 15. Although the practice of child marriage has decreased over the past 20 years globally, 42% of girls between the ages of 15-24 in Africa are married off before they turn 18.

Child marriages involve both underaged girls and boys depending on the circumstance, but girls statistically make up the majority of adolescents engaged in the practice and suffer more as a gender. For example, in Mali, the girl to boy ratio for child marriage is at a staggering 72:2 and in Kenya, the girl to boy ratio is 21:1. These early marriages almost guarantee that these young girls will never complete their education, as they are expected to carry all the responsibilities of upkeep in the household. This practice robs them of any chance of pursuing their dreams. Abuse and mistreatment are also common in these arranged marriages.

The main driving force that continues to perpetuate child marriage is poverty. Often, families will marry off their daughter(s) because they do not have enough money to support their family unit as is. Many parents believe that marrying off their daughter(s) will ensure her financial security, which is something that the father may not be able to provide for his child. In cultures and countries that practice child marriage, daughters are seen as investments. Clothing, feeding, and educating young girls is a financial burden that will ultimately not benefit the home because the daughter will eventually leave and become a part of her husband’s household. Hence, more value is placed on training and empowering the sons of the family because they are the offspring that will inherit the father’s fortune and will continue to carry the family’s name.

It is believed that the biggest financial contribution that a daughter can make to the household in poor families is the dowry her suitor will pay for her hand in marriage. In many countries dowries depreciate as the girl grows older and this prompts families, especially families struggling financially, to marry their daughters off young.

Child marriage is also linked to rapid population booms and infant mortality. 9 out of 10 adolescent pregnancies in developing countries occur within marriage before the girl’s body is fully matured, and many of these pregnancies have complications throughout the trimesters. Some girls form vaginal fistulas and are left by their husbands because they are seen as marked or cursed. Other girls die during childbirth, lose their child, or both, and can become barren because of the injuries inflicted on the body during the pregnancy.

Children should be allowed to be children, and WACSI has submitted a proposal in efforts to partner with the Ford Foundation to help build and strengthen the capacity of CSOs to help end this inhumane practice.

WACSI has launched a project entitled: Strengthening Capacity of CSOs Working on Child Marriage in West Africa to the Ford Foundation for funding towards the project, which has an estimated length of one year. During this period WACSI aims to build the capacity of local partners such as Girls, not Brides to improve their advocacy efforts to help end child marriage in West Africa. As organisations continue to strive for a world free from child marriage, the reality of a world where girls are no longer constrained and oppressed by child marriage becomes more feasible with each step we take forward towards gender equality and justice in West Africa.

Source: Nour, N. M. (2006, November). Health Consequences of Child Marriage.

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


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


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


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 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 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 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.


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 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 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, 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 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, 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 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 is a development practitioner and advocacy strategist with over 15 years of progressive experience in development programming targeted at strengthening civil society in West Africa.

She joined WACSI in November 2009 as a Regional Advocacy Consultant and later became the first Policy Advocacy Officer of the Institute in 2010.

She was promoted to Head of the Policy Influencing and Advocacy (PIA) Unit in 2015. As the Head of the PIA unit, Omolara offers strategic direction to the Institutes’ ambitions to connect and convene groups of organised 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, and civil society accountability.

Previously, Omolara served as a Programmes Associate with the Women in Peace and Security Network-Africa (WIPSEN-Africa), where she worked with her team to design and implement pan-African programmes on—multidimensional peace support operations and gender mainstreaming in security sector reform in Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.

She also 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.

Omolara is a social justice advocate, a network weaver, and a convener. She has a postgraduate degree in Peace and Conflict Studies; a degree in International Relations and History, from the University of Ibadan and Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria respectively.

She also holds executive certificates in Behavioral Science in Public Policy from Harvard University Executive Education in Cambridge and in Citizen Advocacy from the Coady International Institute, St Francis Xavier University in Canada.


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 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 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.