The Ministry of Gender, Children and Social protection (MoGCSP), in collaboration with United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), has organised a conference on child marriage and harmful cultural practices in Tamale.
The conference was to sensitise, raise awareness and share information on issues about child marriages and other negative cultural practices that impede the progress of women and girls and relegate them to subservient roles in communities.
Addressing the conference in Tamale, the Chief Director of the ministry, Dr Afisah Zakariah, said in Ghana one out of five girls (one in five) got married before 18 years and that translated to 260,000 girls below age 18 getting married in the country annually.
She also said the three regions in the north experienced the highest rate of child marriages in the country, where more than one-third of young women, about 39 per cent, were married during childhood.
According to Dr Zakariah, globally 16 million children were married off annually before age 15, pointing out that South and East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa had the highest prevalence rates of early child marriages globally.
“There is, therefore, an urgent need for all actors to double efforts to end this phenomenon to avert the inter-generational transfer of poverty and ensure girls’ empowerment,” she added.
National Strategic Framework
Dr Zakariah said as part of Ghana's pledge and commitment to eliminate child marriage, MoGCSP had developed a National Strategic Framework for ending child marriage (to run till 2026) and that was being implemented by the Child Marriage Unit of the ministry.
She said the framework contained specific strategies that included increased access and retention of adolescents, particularly girls in primary, secondary and complementary basic education, increased access of girls, boys and married adolescents to health information and services, including family planning, and increased access to vocational training and other training programmes for out-of-school girls and married or teenaged mothers.
She added that the ministry had established a single window call centre to provide a unified case management system which would provide a single platform for citizens to lodge complaints and monitor grievances, including child marriage, domestic violence, as well as to disseminate relevant information on such issues.
Dr Zakariah called on stakeholders to promote the prevention of early child marriages among other harmful cultural practices against women and girls.
The Programme Analyst for the UNFPA, Mr Jude Domose, said special efforts should be made to emphasise men’s shared responsibility and promote their active involvement in responsible parenthood and responsible sexual and reproductive behaviour.
He stated that in order to address certain cultural norms related to gender and sexuality such as early child marriage, the involvement of men and boys in making positive decisions on family issues and in reducing household violence was very important to significantly influence health outcomes.
The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of BAMBA Islamic Institute, Sheikh Amin Bamba, called on religious leaders to update themselves with religious teachings on the subject of child marriage so as to communicate effectively on the topic to influence society towards the welfare of women.
He advised Muslim clerics to request briefing from the gender ministry and include that in their sermons to educate their followers.
He also urged Muslim clerics to serve as a link between community members and agencies that supported education of poor girls to provide employment opportunities for women and girls for economic empowerment.