The theme for 2022 Day of the African Child is “Eliminating Harmful Practices Affecting Children: Progress on Policy & Practice since 2013”. In this regard, it is important to tackle the case of abuse against girls in Africa.
The Humans Right Watch organisation in a statement commemorating the special day appealed to African governments to adopt stronger laws and measures which will protect girls from practices that violate their rights. In many countries in Africa girls still suffer from a high rate of unchecked abuse and violence. There is also the issue of child marriages which need to be abolished. “African governments should not tolerate or legally permit child marriage, denial of education, or other human rights abuses against girls”, Human Rights Watch said today.
The issue of child marriage and a lot of other forms of abuse are often founded in discriminatory cultural, economic, religious, and legal contexts, as well as harmful social perceptions on girls’ and women’s roles. Child marriages especially remains widespread in Sub-Saharan Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to eighteen of the world’s twenty nations with the highest rates of underage marriage. Most have very high rates of adolescent pregnancy and a significant percentage of females dropping out of high school.
“Many girls drop out of school because they are pressured to marry and have children at a critical juncture in their education and future,” said Rita Nketiah, a Human Rights Watch women’s rights researcher. “Child marriage prevents girls from making their own life decisions, disrupts or terminates their education, exposes them to abuse and prejudice, and prevents them from fully participating in economic, political, and social life.”
According to reports and data gathered, child marriages and teen pregnancy rates surged in most Sub-Saharan Africa regions during the pandemic. Estimates from UNICEF and humanitarian groups indicate that the number will continue to rise as a result of girls dropping out of school and families losing money and experiencing more financial difficulty.
Inaction on child marriage by several African governments remains one of the biggest obstacles in the effort to protect girls’ rights, including the right to education. It is one thing for illegal abuse to be prevalent, but it is much more dangerous when abuse such us this is allowed under the law. Many African governments have agreed to tackle and end harmful practices against girls and women, yet enforcement remains slow, Human Rights Watch said. Child marriages almost always results in the denial of education and any hope of self-actualisation for the girl child.
Another problem affecting the girl child in Africa is the discrimination after marriage or pregnancy. Ironically, in a society where child marriage and abuse of the girl child is prevalent, these girls are often ostracised from schools either out rightly or by discrimination which forces the girls to drop out. According to Human Rights Watch, the African Union should strengthen the request of African human rights authorities and push all of its member nations to abolish child marriage. It should urge governments to pass legislation and implement school continuation programs that encourage girls to continue in school and return to school after having a child to achieve academic success. It is also quite important to know that measures to help the overall society through education would aid the situation by making the society a better literate space in which girl children can pursue a better existence.
Despite some agreed significant progress by many African countries in reducing gender inequality in secondary education access through active measures of sensitization, many girls continue to encounter severe challenges and limitations that deprive them of their right to an education. Tuition fees and indirect expenses in secondary schools continue to be one of the most significant impediments for girls from low-income households and those facing poverty, according to Human Rights Watch studies in Nigeria, Tanzania, and Malawi, among other countries. In some of these areas, patriarchy also restricts the access for girls as many believe that education should be for boy children while the girls are meant for breeding. To tackle this, a deeper and more hands-on grassroots campaign is required to teach proper mind-sets to erase the pre-existing erroneous beliefs. Successful women also need to stand out and be celebrated by stakeholders so that the community and the girls can have great examples to look up to and emulate.
All these issues being discussed are part of the reasons why it is a great innovation to celebrate the Day of the African Child. Active measures and solutions can thus be reached that would help make a better world for the children, and a better future for the world.