Heads of governments from across Africa are gathering in Lusaka, Zambia, for the African Union’s First African Girls’ Summit on Ending Child Marriage in Africa from 26-27 November. A number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), including Plan International, are also participating in the summit.
Plan International is calling for governments to ensure national legislation is enforced in line with international human rights standards and that the minimum age of marriage is 18 for girls and boys, regardless of parental consent.
The summit in Zambia is a bold, inspiring step to address a major issue
The prevalence of child marriage across the African continent is high. In sub-Saharan Africa, 37% of young women aged 20-24 were married by their 18th birthday. An estimated 70 million girls in sub-Saharan Africa are at risk of being married by 2030.
Plan International’s Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Roland Angerer, says:
“The meeting in Zambia is a bold, inspiring step to address a major issue. However, it will take more than a meeting to combat early child marriage. It will require sustained support and collaboration from governments, NGOs and communities. After all, everyone has the right to decide if, when and who they want to marry.”
Governments must support girls' education and sexual health
To combat child marriage, African governments must ensure girls have access to information on sexual and reproductive health, as well as services to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Education is also critical. Research shows how girls with no education are 3 times more likely to marry by 18 than those with a secondary or higher education.
Work must continue at a community level too. Plan International has worked in partnership with community-based organisations and regional traditional leaders for many years. This work creates platforms for leaders to exert pressure to eliminate early child marriage in their communities. Through our 18+ Programme, focused on ending child marriage in Southern Africa, action has been taking place at the regional level and at local and national levels in Tanzania, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique.
It is significant – and timely – that the African Union has decided to focus on early child marriage across the continent and it’s crucial that all national governments now follow its lead.