Child marriage – a serious barrier to development

Child marriage is a complex issue rooted in poverty, food insecurity, and harmful traditional, religious and cultural practices. It not only violates rights but also leads to a cycle of inequality, having serious consequences for the lives of victims and their children. This includes an increased risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections, including HIV; it increases the risk of death for girls and their children; and increases their vulnerability to multiple forms of violence. In most cases, girls that are married no longer attend school, taking away their opportunities. This is a devastating consequence of child marriage, not just for victims, but their families, children, communities and society as a whole.

This is why ending child marriage is integrated in the Sustainable Development Goals and in the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.

One way to help deal with the causes of child marriage is by ensuring communities have access to family planning, treatment and care.

Child Marriage in Mali

In Mali, 55% of girls are married before the age of 18. That’s the fourth highest levels of child marriage in the world.

There are also huge differences in the levels of child marriage between different regions. For example, in Bamako region 39.4% of girls are married before the age of 18, the Kayes region has a child marriage rate of nearly 71%.

Education

A lot of girls are out of school as a result or as a cause of child marriage. If schools are not free, accessible, safe and provide the right nutrition, families fear their children will stray into prostitution, drug abuse and trafficking or even being victims of violence. Because of these fears, families often see child marriage as the only way to keep their daughters safe. This makes it all the more important to raise awareness of the consequences to girls’ lives when they are married as children, become mothers as children, and miss out on their education. One way to help support a reduction in child marriage is to make sure education is accessible and provides enough nutrition for girls and boys. This should be part of a broader approach, including family planning and access to healthcare.

The Law

Mali has signed the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and signed onto the African Union Campaign on Ending Child Marriage, yet the law still states that girls can marry at 16 and boys at 18. According to the Malian constitution, the African Charter trumps any national law, meaning the current national law on child marriage is breaking the constitution.

In addition to slow progress at the political level, Mali is a country where drug trafficking, terrorism and the 2012 government crisis have made development progress challenging. Finally, religious beliefs maintaining that girls are ready for marriage - ‘a sacred right’ - when they start menstruating, make the battle to end child marriage all the more difficult.

On 11 October 2015 (International Day of the Girl), the Malian government launched their national campaign on ending child marriage, however, we’ve seen very little progress since then.

Recommendations from the AU Special Rapporteur

The AU special rapporteur visited Mali to draw attention to the work on ending child marriage. The visit informed a series of recommendations, including calling for:

-       Civil Society Organisations to strengthenleadership and improve coordination, improve visibility of efforts on the ground and work more closely with the media and others to leverage commitments at the next elections;

-       The Malian government to finalise, fund and implement a multi-sectoral, multi-stakeholder coordinated and costed strategy for ending child marriage; improve coordination building on existing structures like the gender-based violence cluster; and improve tracking of progress;

-       Financial and technical partners to improve coordination amongst themselves and support the government with coordination and leverage financial resources to align to the national strategy for ending child marriage;

-       All stakeholders to work in a coordinated and complementary manner focusing on:

  • community sensitisation
  • identifying solutions and making alternatives to child marriage available and known to households
  • building religious leader champions
  • advocating for the law to be harmonised with the African Charter and be instilled at all levels in country.

Next steps

The AU special rapporteur’s report to the AU commission will be a tool to keep pushing for progress on the national agenda to end child marriage in Mali. And the visit, along with Mali’s participation in the High Level Meeting on Ending Child Marriage in Dakar has refreshed efforts to end child marriage.

At the Dakar meeting, Mali committed to developing the national action plan and a roadmap to implement it. They pledged to launch a public campaign to end gender-based violence and child marriage, hold a national meeting with religious and traditional leaders to harmonize messages and formalize the mainstreaming of sexual reproductive health and rights in the school curricula.