Marie Stopes Zambia joined delegates in the First African Girls’ Summit on Ending Child Marriage in Africa on 26-27 November to discuss the regional response to the issue, and more specifically how it restricts girls’ access to contraception and puts them at greater risk of dying from maternal related causes.
The summit was hosted by the Zambian Government and brought together ministers, multilateral agencies, religious and community leaders, women and girls affected by child marriage, and youth and civil society advocates. It aimed to share best practice and assess what the most significant barriers were to progress, especially in countries that have signed up to the End Child Marriage Now campaign. At the summit’s conclusion, governments and delegates pledged to accelerate their efforts to end child marriage in their countries.
Three African first ladies joined Marie Stopes Zambia’s event at the conference - sponsored by the Norwegian government - to discuss how child marriage can restrict girls’ access to contraception, and the risks posed by early childbirth and unsafe abortion. The first ladies - Esther Lungu (Zambia), Tobeka Zuma (South Africa) and Roman Tesfaye (Ethiopia) – were joined by ministers, traditional leaders and campaigners.
The first lady of Zambia called upon governments to allocate more resources to end child marriage and elevate the profile of this issue. She said we must “break the silence around child marriage”.
Child marriage – rooted in traditional and cultural norms - deprives girls of their childhood, education, health and future. While the legal age for marriage is 18 in most African countries, this is often not enforced. The problem is most common in rural areas, where poverty and gender inequality can be most acute. Child marriage is one of the key drivers of early pregnancies: adolescents aged 15 to 19 are twice as likely to die during pregnancy or child birth as those over 20, and girls under the age of 15 are five times more likely to die. Girls married young are also at greater risk of HIV infection and gender based violence.
At the summit’s conclusion, governments and delegates pledged to accelerate their efforts to end child marriage in their countries.