Sub-Saharan girls held back by child marriage and violence

Tuesday, November 22, 2011 - 15:39

Parents’ approval of forced, under-age marriages and general acceptance of domestic violence and corporal punishment are major obstacles to girls in sub-Saharan Africa completing their primary education, new ActionAid research has revealed. 

Over 5000 respondents (including children, parents, teachers, traditional leaders and government authorities) took part in research undertaken in Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria and Tanzania as part of two girls’ education projects.  The research found that up to 86% of girls had reported some form of violence against them in the past 12 months, that parents are complicit in under-age marriage and that girls are all too frequently blamed for the violence they experience.

Julie Juma, ActionAid’s Acting Head of Education said: “Girls in all five countries complained about how parents and other figures of authority condoned violence towards them, including physical beating and forced marriage.  Complacency at all levels towards the shockingly high rates of violence against girls and the forced marriage of children are major barriers to education and are severely limiting these girls’ opportunities.

Education is one of the best ways for people to lift themselves out of poverty and every child has the right to basic education.  ActionAid is working with communities to help reverse the ‘normalisation’ of these harmful practices and we are calling on governments to stamp out forced child marriage and provide effective protective systems for girls.

The study found that male authority over marriage combined with poverty and inequality means that many girls marry before the age of 16, frequently against their will. In Kenya, ‘traditional’ views reduced girls to chattels and fathers articulated the belief that ‘the girl child is just for marriage’.  In Nigeria, 43% of girls surveyed mentioned early marriage as the main obstacle to their schooling, and in Tanzania, 53% cited pregnancy. 

Once married, girls are unlikely to return to school due to the weight of household chores and childcare.  Husbands may limit their freedom or threaten them with violence if they disobey. And once pregnant, many girls’ hopes for an education come to an end.

Julie Juma said: “After giving birth, young mothers are finding that they are barred from returning to school as they might ‘give other girls ideas’. During pregnancy girls are not allowed to attend  school.  For example, in Ghana they are discouraged from continuing at school and in Mozambique they have to attend night classes, often in a different school altogether.

Ministries of Education in these countries must put in place re-entry policies to protect the rights of teenage mothers to education during and after pregnancy without subjecting them to discrimination or increasing their vulnerability

The research, carried out by national researchers in Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria and Tanzania was co-ordinated by the University of London’s Institute of Education, in collaboration with anti-poverty charity ActionAid.   


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