Many people have argued that child marriages have happened because of gender inequality and the supposed belief that women are inferior to boys and men. However, cultural practices and poverty are also at the top of these reasons.
With cultural practices and tradition being at the top, what are our traditional leaders doing to eradicate this norm that has been practised for many years?
What new rules are they implementing to protect the girl child from being a victim of an institution that imprisons her and confines her to a space where she not only loses her freedom but her identity as well?
Given the statistics, it is about time we start engaging the traditional leaders.
At the opening of the 22nd annual meeting of the Council of Traditional Leaders, 2018, President Hage Geingob applauded the country’s traditional leadership for their stance against gender-based violence. He further urged the leaders not to allow child marriages and labour, and to report such incidents.
“Do not allow, within your respective jurisdictions, the archaic cultural practices of child marriages and child labour, which enslaves our children to lifelong serfdom,” the president said.
According to an article by Ellaine Smit in The Namibian newspaper on the 3rd July 2020, a total of 7% of girls in Namibia are married before the age of 18 and 2% are married before their 15th birthday.
Child marriage is a traditional practice that, in many places, happens simply because it has happened for generations.
In some communities, when girls start menstruating, they become women in the eyes of the community.
Marriage is, therefore, the next step towards giving a girl her status as a wife and mother.
These are marriages that go uncounted for and girls are left to tend to men who are older than them – who end up forcing them into sexual practices and raping them so they bear children with them.
In the end, only a few of these girls survive these ordeals because some of them have to become women overnight.
Imagine the torment of being taken from your playful environment and you become a woman overnight.
This means that every time a girl child is married off, she loses out on the opportunity to become educated.
When a girl child is forced into an early marriage, many a time, she drops out of school, dashing prospects for later earnings and autonomy.
She may also find herself socially isolated and prone to depression.
Thus, it has to start with eliminating child marriage, as it would have enormous benefits for not only the empowerment of girls but also for their health, education and well-being, as well as for communities and nations.
• Frieda Mukufa’s lifestyle section concentrates on women-related issues and parenting every Friday in the New Era newspaper.