Home News How to stop child marriage? Punish the husband, parents and wedding guests.

How to stop child marriage? Punish the husband, parents and wedding guests.

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The president of the tiny West African nation of Sierra Leone on Tuesday signed a law that bans marriages for children 18 and younger and imposes heavy fines on adult spouses, a victory for activists who have long fought to eradicate the widespread practice.

Experts say the new legislation goes further than many other similar laws in Africa by penalizing those who facilitate the marriage, such as parents, officiants and even wedding guests, in addition to the husband.

In Sierra Leone, approximately 800,000 girls under the age of 18 are married. UNICEF report In 2020, that number was about a third of all girls in the country. Half of them were married by age 15. About 4% of boys were married by age 18, Human Rights Watch said.

Under the new law, those who marry under age 50 can seek financial compensation. They also have a way out of the marriage: applying for an annulment.

Betty Kabali, a researcher at Human Rights Watch who focuses on women’s rights and sexual health in Africa, praised the move to punish those who abet marriages, saying: “The most powerful point for me is that it shows that children are not marrying in isolation.”

Every year, at least 12 million girls under the age of 18 are married. According to the United Nations.More than 650 million girls and women are married during child marriage.

South Asia is the region with the largest number of child brides, with approximately 290 million, accounting for 45% of the world’s total number of child brides. focus on About 127 million people, accounting for 20%.

according to Child marriage map Of the 20 countries with the highest rates, 16 are in Africa, according to Girls Not Brides, a global organization working to end the practice.

A report released this year Immediate equality The survey showed that among the 20 countries in Africa, only a few have implemented a comprehensive ban, while many countries have not fully enforced the ban.

Child marriage often causes girls to drop out of school. Pregnancy at a young age can cause long-term harm and trauma.

Sierra Leone is The deadliest place Reproduction is even more dangerous for teenagers.

“They are forced to become adults before they become adults,” said Kadijatu Barrie, 26, a student and program coordinator for Strong Girls Evolution, a network of groups including women in Sierra Leone.

Ms. Barry said her family began pressuring her to marry when she was 10, and her father disowned her when she refused to marry when she was 15. She said she feared she would drop out of school.

“Due to all these reasons, our women are less educated,” she said.

Many face the added trouble of another widespread cultural practice in the country: female genital mutilation, which is considered a human rights violation. World Health Organization. about 61% Girls aged 15 to 19 in Sierra Leone have undergone female genital mutilation, which can lead to severe difficulties in childbirth.

Under the new law, which takes effect Tuesday, people who marry children can be sentenced to 15 years in prison or fined more than $5,000. That’s a harsh penalty for a country that is expected to see per capita gross domestic product growth of about $433 by 2023. According to data from the World Bank.

The law applies not only to marriage, but also prohibits adults from living together and having sexual relations with children.

Parents also may not consent to their children’s marriages. Celebrants may not officiate at weddings. Guests may not attend weddings. In fact, anyone who “aids or abets” a marriage could face 10 years in prison, a fine of about $2,500, or both.

The ban is in line with a broader initiative in Sierra Leone to promote girls’ rights by keeping them in school and protecting them from genital mutilation.

President Julius Maada Bio 22% of the national budget and bring more women into government. He and his wife, Fatima Bio, pushed for a ban on child marriage.

Mr Bio posted: “I have always believed that the future of Sierra Leone belongs to women.” On social media The law was signed in the presence of his daughter.

Nerida Nthamburi, Head of Africa Affairs at Girls Not Brides, said:

“We want Sierra Leone to be a leader on the African continent and influence other countries.”

Ms. Ntambuli said that in other countries, criminalizing child marriage has driven the practice underground, causing communities to unite and girls to have less protection against the practice.

For the law to have a real impact, Sierra Leone officials must build lasting relationships with communities, especially in rural areas where child marriage is more common, researchers and experts say.

That means tackling poverty, which can cause families to marry off their daughters, and stepping up efforts to educate communities about sexual and reproductive health.

Many women and girls still have to refuse marriages, request dissolution of marriages or seek compensation against the wishes of their neighbours, husbands and families.

Ms. Barry was ostracized for rejecting her family’s pressure. “They all ganged up on me,” she said. “I became the worst person in their eyes.”

She said she had tried to stop her 14-year-old sister, who was good at drawing and had wanted to be a fashion designer, from getting married. But she heard that Ms. Barry was being vilified in the community.

“I couldn’t save her,” Ms. Barry said. “It still makes me cry.”

Joseph Johnson Contributed reporting.



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