Worldwide, more than 700 million women alive today were married as children. 17% of them, or 125 million, live in Africa.
Approximately 39% of girls in sub-Saharan Africa are married before the age of 18.
Specifically, nearly 1 in every 2 girls in Uganda is married before the age of 18.
According to a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) 2014 report, if nothing is done, the number of girls married as children will double by 2050 and Africa will become the region with the highest number of child brides in the world.
Based on these statistics, I spoke with Hope Nankunda, Regional Coordinator Girls Not Brides Uganda and founder of Raising Teenager-Uganda on initiatives to end Child Marriage in Uganda and if men have a role to play in ending child marriage.
The Female Orator: Tell us about yourself and your work?
Hope Nankunda a teacher and counselor by profession with 12 years experience working with adolescents in schools. I am the Founder and Executive Director – Raising Teenager-Uganda working on Menstrual Hygiene Management for the less advantaged girl child.
I am the Founder and Executive Director – Raising Teenager-Uganda working on Menstrual Hygiene Management for the less advantaged girl child.
A member of Girls Not Brides Global Partnership to End Child Marriage, I also belong to the Girls Not Brides Uganda National Alliance where I coordinate the Central Region in Uganda.
I am also a member of East Africa Child Rights Network and celebrated as a change maker.
As a mentor, a trainer and human rights activist, I work to ensure that NO GIRL drops out of school because of menstruation related matters.
The Female Orator: According to statistics, nearly 1 in every 2 girls in Uganda is married before the age of 18. Why is child marriage common in Uganda?
Child marriage in Uganda is driven by multiple factors which include cultural norms and expectations of the girl child, women’s disadvantaged status, acute poverty and weaknesses in legal and policy actions among others.
For families in traditional ethnic communities, child marriage is associated with parental need for protection of their daughters against early sexual encounters and pregnancy so as to keep the families dignity.
Child marriage is seen as offering lifelong security for young girls and this is linked to the low value attached to girls’ education- where parents feel that educating a girl child is a waste of time and resources when she is expected to get married.
It is also important to note that lack of implementation of policies and laws that seek to protect children has been noted to fuel child marriages.
The Female Orator: As the Team Lead for Raising Teenagers, what do teenage girls in Uganda think about child marriage?
Teenage girls wish to be protected by all means against child marriage. Our programs run through schools and these girls always give examples of their friends back in the villages who have been forced by their parents to get married against their will.
Some girls have witnessed their fellow teenagers go through torture and violence in the homes they are married off to and they can’t do much to save or protect such victims.
Teenagers in Uganda would love to stay in school and complete their education and be able to contribute to the development process.
The Female Orator: In 2015, the Government of Uganda launched the African Union Campaign to End Child Marriage, has any progress been made?
The national strategy to end child marriage was launched in 2015 by the Ugandan government.
The government is working closely with other stakeholders, development partners, civil society organisations as well as religious leaders to drive the Agenda of Ending Child Marriage and Teenage pregnancy.
They have come up with Multi-Sectral Approach to put an end to this practice and its just a matter of time, positive change will be realized.
The Girls Not Brides Uganda Alliance under the Leadership of our Host organization Joy for Children Uganda has made steps to popularize the strategy through working with the Parliamentary Forum for Children.
Our aim is to reach out to the local government at district levels and ensure that they get to know the existence of the strategy and its purpose in addressing child marriage and Teenage pregnancy.
The Female Orator: As the Regional Coordinator for Girls Not Brides Uganda what are some of the challenges you have faced fighting child marriage?
Some of the challenges include the cultural norms and beliefs. We still have cultures which believe that once a girl begins menstruation, then she is ready for marriage.
Whereas school is the safest place for every child, we still have schools that do not have facilities such as separate latrines and changing rooms for girls, some schools lack water and this makes it difficult for girls to attend school during their menstruation.
The Female Orator: Do men have a role to play in ending Child Marriage?
Yes, men have a very big role to play in ending child marriage because in any case, they are the ones that marry these young girls.
They are fathers and therefore need to appreciate the importance of educating their daughters as opposed to marrying them off early.
Many times boys and male teachers in schools tend to humiliate and embarrass girls once they stain their uniforms during menstruation, this forces the girls to abandon school.
If they were supportive and accommodative enough, it would reduce on the rates of school dropouts among girls and subsequently reduce the rate of child marriage.
The Female Orator: It has been said that laws alone cannot solve the problem of child marriage. Can the Ugandan government do more?
The government can work closely with religious and cultural leaders to educate and sensitize communities about the dangers associated with child marriage by calling upon the parents to keep their children in school until they complete their education.
The Female Orator: At the community level how can Child Marriage be discouraged?
Child marriage can be discouraged by sensitizing the community members about the benefits of keeping their children in schools as well as the dangers associated with Child marriage which include the difficulties associated with child birth.
It can also be discouraged by punishing the perpetrators so that they serve as examples to others.
Empowering girls to report sexual exploitation and abuse to the local authorizes is yet another way of breaking the silence.
The Female Orator: Do you see a future in Uganda where child marriage is a thing of the past?
Yes, I believe that if the government, development partners, civil society organizations and religious/cultural leaders continue speaking the same language against child marriage, it will one day be a thing of the past.
The Female Orator: Tell us about your latest project.
My latest project is “KEEPING GIRLS IN SCHOOL”
At Raising Teenagers Uganda, we are carrying out this project by providing the less advantaged girls with reusable sanitary pads that can take them for 1 year.
This will enable them to attend school daily and be able to compete favorably with their male counterparts at the end of the term.
We obtain these sanitary pads from well wishers who believe in our mission.
So far, we have supported over 3000 girls in rural schools so that they can stay in school and complete their education.
Find out more about Hope’s work. Follow her @nankunda2005 on Twitter.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.