/ 4 September 2015

Child marriage still rife in Mozambique

Child marriages.
If mitigating steps are not taken immediately, in a concerted effort by all stakeholders, the pandemic will be a catastrophe for girls.

Albino Francisco, a National Coalition to End Child Marriage in Mozambique representative told delegates at a psychosocial forum on Thursday, “… 56 323 of [them] were married before they reached 15 years of age.”

He was speaking at the three-day long forum held in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, hosted by the Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative (Repssi). The network hosts the forum bi-annually to promote awareness among governments, civil society, academia and media about the need for psychosocial support for children.

Francisco said these statistics are from an analysis of the latest health surveys (in 2011), census projections and governmental administrative data. The statistics translate to 48.2% of the women in this age group getting married before they turned 18 and 14.3% of them getting married before they turned 15. “In Mozambique, child marriage is illegal before the age of 18, although the law allows for exceptions up to 16 years of age where there is consent from the child’s parents,” he said.

Teen pregnancy was a natural association of child marriage and the statistics for this were equally shocking. “In total, more than 439.453 women aged 20-24 had their first child before their 18th birthday, 85.257 of which concerned mothers who were aged less than 15 at the birth of their first child,” he said.

He said “religious and regional” factors contributed to the ongoing practice and there was a much higher rate of child marriage in central and northern regions than in southern regions. Interestingly, he said, “girls living in female-headed households have a significantly lower probability of getting married before 18 than girls living in male-headed households”.  “Similarly, the probability of entering into child marriage decreases unambiguously with the age of the head of household.”

Some of the effects of child marriage were a “significantly lower likelihood of finishing primary school and starting secondary school” and “the children of adolescent mothers are significantly more malnourished than children of mothers in other age groups at the national level”.

Neighbouring country, Tanzania, has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world.

Co-ordinator for the Agape Aids control programme, Deozawadi Marandu, told delegates that on average, “almost two out of five girls will be married before their 18th birthday”. The programme was established in 2006 and operates in the country’s Shinyanga region and its founders entered an agreement with the Firelight Foundation this year to implement a Stop Child Marriages and Early Pregnancies Project.

He said the causes of child marriages in the region include “the prevalence of harmful norms that make the community to view girls as source of income”. 

In some communities “child marriage is preferred as it is believed that when a girl conceives while at home, she will remove the honor of the family and reduces bride wealth,” he said. The programme aimed to educate and sensitise communities about child rights and the harmful effects of child marriages through “public video sessions; community and victims change agent groups, and school clubs”. 

They attempted family reconciliation and re-unification and gave victims legal representation. They also advocated for changing the Tanzanian Marriage Act of 1971 “which says children are allowed to be married at 14”, he said.

As a result of their efforts, more than 750 vulnerable girls have been rescued from child marriages and reintegrated into formal education, he said. Others have been supported in accessing vocational studies to pursue jobs such as tailoring, welding and electrical installation. Sixty girls have received business training and been given start up grants to initiate small businesses.”

“To effectively address the problem of child marriages, there is a need to have a holistic approach that looks at policy changes, addresses community attitudes, strengthens households economically and also empowers girls,” he said.