Underage brides – Efforts made in East Africa to prevent child marriage


The child advocacy group, ‘Girls not Brides’ estimates that every year, 15 million girls around the world who are under the age of 18 are married. Child marriage and its negative effect on girls has been a long term global issue. Its impacts are amplified in sub-Saharan Africa, where the region’s high rates of early marriage and its deep cultural history extend to prevent progress in female health and education. In Kenya, 23% of girls are married before they turn 18. This figure is higher in Uganda, where 40% of girls are married before they legally reach of age. While most of the East African countries have their legal age of marriage set at 18, it is clear that this has historically not been upheld.


Many complex and interacting factors cause early marriages. Among girls, many of these reasons have to do with the cultural belief that girls are inferior to boys. Education is a large contributing factor. When girls are unable to continue with their schooling, they are often forced into marriage as the only other option for social and economic mobility. Poverty and honour are other reasons deeply linked to culture and development. With pre-marital sex being a taboo, marriage is seen as a way to protect the honour of unmarried and young women who fall pregnant. Poverty is arguably the largest driving force for child marriage in Tanzania. A bride price enables families to gain economic benefits from their female children.


Despite the calls for concern, many efforts to decrease early marriages have been affected by a growing number of East African countries. Ethiopia, Burundi and several other countries have pledged to eliminate forced marriage by 2030 under target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals. Rwanda co-sponsored the 2017 Human Rights Council resolution which aims to early and forced marriages. This October, Tanzania’s Supreme Court of Appeal has condemned parents marrying of girls who are as young as 15. In many nations, children’s rights advocacy groups continue to work hard with governments to protect girls who are vulnerable. As more knowledge about the harmful effects of early marriage become clear, governments are beginning to become aware of how they are failing to protect their girls, and in turn, uphold laws that enforce their human rights by advocating for 18 as the minimum age of marriage.



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