A research conducted by the African Women Lawyers Association (AWLA), a non-governmental organisation (NGO), has revealed that child marriage and gender-based violence against girls in schools are prevalent in the Kadjebi District in the Volta Region.
The study further discovered that most cases of child marriage occurred in predominantly Muslim communities because “in Islam a girl-child aged fourteen to sixteen years can marry”.
Funded by the Government of Canada through the Canadian Fund for Local Initiative (CFLI), the research also established that most parents married off their girls due to money and material benefits.
More so, the high incidence of teenage pregnancy accounted for many cases of child marriage. This is because “as the girls get pregnant, they are quickly married off to the man to avoid embarrassment for the family,” the research indicated.
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The research was made public by the Executive Director of AWLA, Madam Edna Kuma, at a public forum at Kadjebi as part of AWLA’s project on the theme: “Strengthening communities against child marriage and sexual violence against girls”, in the Kadjebi District.
The project seeks to strengthen citizens and communities against child marriage and sexual violence against girls in schools in the district.
She said child marriage and sexual assault against girls remained a persistent development threat in the district despite the frantic efforts to end the problem.
Madam Kuma, who is also a legal practitioner, explained that the key objective of the forum was to enable her present legal perspectives of the issues and raise awareness on the legal consequences of child marriage and sexual violence against the girl-child.
That, she stressed, would, among others, promote behaviourial change of perpetrators in order to reduce the canker.
Madam Kuma said the research also identified religion or culture, poverty, lack of adequate sex education and teenage pregnancy as key factors that promoted child marriage in the Kadjebi District.
She said AWLA frowned on violence against especially girls, including all forms of physical, sexual and mental violence, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, harm or abuse, including commercial sexual exploitation which had the tendency to prevent them from living in a safe environment.
Madam Kuma said child marriage issues were national matters since it occurred in all regions and thus, called on stakeholders to help end the incidence of child marriage and sexual assault against girls for the inclusive development of Ghana.
The Programmes Manager of AWLA, Mr Cosmos Kwame Akorli, appealed to parents to desist from forcing their girl-child into marriages.
He said the act was criminal and punishable at the law court since it contravened subsection 1C of section 14 of the Children’s Act, 1998 (Act 560) and added that “no person shall force a child to be married”.
Mr Akorli, who is also a development consultant, explained that the minimum age for marriage of whatever kind should be 18 years and stressed that any person who contravened the law committed an offence and was liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding GH¢ 500 or to a term of imprisonment not exceeding one year or to both.
The Kadjebi District Girl-Child Education Officer, Madam Dorcas Ama Obeng, said child marriage disrupts the education of the girl-child as was evident in the high school drop-out rate for girls in the district.
That, she said, “breaks the girl’s focus in life, thereby, making the future of the girl-child uncertain”.
Madam Obeng advised parents to provide the basic needs for the girl-child to help reduce their vulnerability to men who sexually assaulted them because of their needs.
She also urged the girls to report sexual assault cases to the police to ensure proper prosecution of cases to deter others.