Mozambique is embarking on a multi-faceted strategy to end child marriage, adding momentum to the global effort to stop a practice that harms young girls.
The government will use legal means to enforce new measures, but long-term success of the program mostly depends on changing cultural norms.
Around 48% of girls in Mozambique get married before they reach the age of 18 and 14% are wed before they hit 15. Child brides are more likely to have fatal complications during childbirth because of their undeveloped bodies. They’re also at a greater risk of experiencing sexual and domestic violence as well as contracting diseases such as HIV.
In many communities in Mozambique, social arrangements are shaped by the tradition of child marriage. Young girls are groomed for marriage from a young age to give families leverage to raise money or goods. For example, a family can pay off a debt or secure a bride for their son by selling their daughter into marriage.
Girls have no say in the matter and are often removed from school and barred from pursuing opportunities beyond household chores.
The groups involved in creating the reform understood that change would have to come from within communities rather than by being imposed from outside.
Girls Not Brides, a nonprofit that combats child marriage, worked with the government to bring community members into the process.
They consulted community leaders, civil society groups, girls, women, men--anyone related to the tradition--to get a holistic understanding of how this practice could be dismantled.
Their program has 8 pillars that cover “education, awareness campaigns, access to family planning and sexual and reproductive health services, improved laws and policies, as well as research and monitoring.”
Ultimately, the plan will only be as effective as the effort put into it. Stakeholders have to continuously work with and monitor communities to make sure that child marriage doesn’t simply move further into the shadows.
Perhaps the most important step will be advocating for girls education. Less girls will be married off if it stops being acceptable to pull girls from school. And if communities begin to realize that educated women are an asset to the entire community, then less girls will be married off.
Globally, 15 million girls are married each year. 700 million women alive today were married as children and if rates aren’t slowed an estimated 1.2 billion more girls will be doomed to an early marriage by 2050.
9 of the 10 countries with the highest child marriage rates are in Africa, but the countries with the most absolute child brides are more widespread.
That means that ending child marriage takes global collaboration. Despite the daunting numbers, progress is being made in some countries.
Ending child marriage is incremental in many places, but it’s an effort that accelerates as it goes on.
When family members recognize that girls should have say in the outcome of their lives, then they become advocates. These advocates gradually convince other families and eventually the tradition gains the stigma it deserves.
And then, finally, girls have a say in who they become and get to decide when--if ever--they want to get married.