Across Ghana, 52 regions were declared child marriage-free on Friday as the result of a project to empower communities to help end the harmful practice.
In Ghana, 1 in 5 girls aged 20 to 24 years old were married before the age of 18, according to UNICEF.
Following the implementation of the Global Advocacy Alliance (GAA), an initiative launched by Plan International Ghana in partnership with the International Child Development Programme (ICDP) to end child marriage and gender-based violence, 84 communities enforced measures to prevent child marriages within the next five to 10 years.
Since 2016, ICDP and GAA worked with community leaders, parents, social services, and law enforcement to help end child marriage in each community.
"Child marriage was quite predominant in the communities, but was a hidden agenda that was perpetuated by parents, mothers, fathers into the communities," Chief Executive Officer of ICDP Joyce Lanyo said, according to Bryt FM.
Community leaders previously married off impregnated young girls or young girls that men offered to support because they were experiencing poverty.
GAA selected influential leaders called Champions of Change (CoC) in each community to join the effort to end child marriage. CoCs received education on child marriage laws and the lasting effects that negative gender norms have on girls, while learning strategies to protect girls against the practice.
“The CoC lobbied other influential leaders with clear messages on ending child marriage; organized community durbars to sensitize community members; engaged with paramountcies, chief Imams, speaking on sensitive traditional and religious practices on various radio stations, churches, mosques, and at funeral grounds; sensitizing girls to remain in school and progress in their education as one way of avoiding child marriage; as well as engaging in house-to-house education," Plan International Ghana’s Anna Nabere told Global Citizen in a statement.
"These activities by the Champions of Change built community solidarity and vigilance that stopped child marriage.”
Child marriage impacts all aspects of girls' lives. Child brides who stop attending school are more likely to experience early pregnancy, malnourishment, domestic violence, and pregnancy complications. Girls who enter child marriages also have a harder time escaping poverty.
GAA’s project has also offered child marriage survivor support and helped them enroll back in school to finish their education.
While child marriage is less prevalent in Ghana than it was three decades ago, progress has not been even across regions.
GAA has extended its child marriage project for another three to five years to reach even more communities, Country Director of Plan International Ghana Solomon Tesfamariam announced at a ceremony on Friday.
Chief of Jumapo Nana Oppong Owusu applauded the ICDP and GAA and called on stakeholders to not back down on efforts to maintain progress.
The COVID-19 pandemic is only increasing the risks of child marriage. Girls in sub-Saharan Africa are already entering child marriages at higher rates because schools are closed. Delays in programs to help stop child marriage could cause 13 million child marriages, the United Nations Population Fund estimates.