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Uganda among the worst in child marriages – study

By Anne Mugisa and Catherine Mwesigwa in Kuala Lumpur

Almost two million Ugandan minors are forced or lured into alleged marriage, according to an African human social development report presented at the Women Deliver international conference in Kuala Lumpur.

The report is compiled from statistics gathered in 2010 to 2012 from UNFPA, UNICEF, WHO and World Bank.

Uganda falls among the 15 worst African countries with high numbers of child brides. At 46% of underage girls below 18 forced or lured in marriage, it is in the eleventh position while Niger tops the list at 75% followed by Chad with 72% of child marriages.

According to the study, the countries with the worst child marriage scores also have the highest maternal mortality ratios and highest adolescent fertility and constitute the greater majority of people living with HIV.

In these countries, women constitute between 55% and 75% of all adults living with HIV and they have the highest child mortality rates.

Every day 38,000 girls are forced into early marriage, destroying their lives. Usually, there is a wide age gap between the child brides and their said husbands. The number is part of the millions of girls forced into early marriage globally every year.

The revelation is a slap in the face of the country that boasts of a constitution and other legislation which clearly spell out the age of consent as well as defilement. The research showed that Uganda, like other African countries with a high number of child marriages, is lax on the culprits and on implementation of the lax.

Child marriage negatively impacts on the girls and their children and can affect generations ahead of them.

“These children have no say in the marriage, are prone to violence and sexually transmitted infections and other ills,” said Dr. V. Chandra-Mouli from the World Health Organisation.

He further explained that the child brides are cut off from their family and social network which creates a huge health effect on them and then because the girl does not have a say, her children also lack education or are married off at an early age.

Early marriages and the resultant pregnancies are the biggest cause of deaths among 15 to 19 year old girls, accounting for 20% of maternal deaths. Those who survive the pregnancies suffer lasting complications like fistula and disability.

Dr. Mouli said that the parents who marry off these children give several justifications which include poverty, lack of education, lack of laws prohibiting it, social-religious considerations and sexual activity of the child, which should not be used as the excuse. He said that parents simply want to get rid of the girl so that they do not have the burden of looking after her.

“The truth is in some of the countries have got nice laws on paper which are not implemented. This is part of a wider neglect of adolescent girls,” Dr. Mouli said.

Dr. Laura Laski, the Chief of Reproductive Health with the UN population Fund (UNFPA) said that projections are that 142 million children will be married off in the next 10 years which calls for urgent programmes to stop that from happening

She also said that there is need to work with the children who are already married to mitigate their situation and reconnect them with their social networks, help them access education and health services and also save those at risk of being married off.

Laura said the girls in this category are the 40% who are completely out of the public spaces because of their situation who need to be reconnected.

She said that UNFPA will recruit adolescent girls and mentors to try and re-integrate the victims with other girls of their age especially those suffering the same fate, give them identification and sensitise them on health opportunities and where to get the services.

Laura also said that they will try to help some of the girls to acquire some land on which they can invest and also on how to get social support.

The Global Coordinator of “Girls Not brides” Lakshmi Sundaram noted that parents have a tendency to look at marriage as security, to protect the girls and never think of what happens afterwards.

“There is need to have laws in place, laws on marriage, birth and death registration as well as protection from violence in marriage.

Source: New Vision