Teni (pseudo name) is an 18-year-old teenage mother of two from Gowrie, a farming community in the Bongo District of the Upper East Region.
She dropped out of school at the Junior High School level at the age of 16 to marry when she got pregnant with her first born.
“I had my first child at the age of 16 when I was preparing to write my Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) and my parents compelled me to marry because I could not give birth to the child in my father’s house.
“I had to abandon my education and move in with my husband who is engaged in galamsey (illegal small scale mining) activities in our district. He also dropped out of school and has since been doing galamsey to feed us,” the 16- year- old girl victim told the Ghana News Agency.
Teni had a boyfriend (now husband) at that age because her parents could not afford to provide some of the basic things she needed to stay in school including learning materials and sanitary pads.
“Anytime I asked my boyfriend for something he readily gave it to me as he had money from the mining activities, so I could not deny him when he asked to have sex with me and that got me pregnant and I was forced to marry,” she said.
Teni who wanted to be a nurse had her dream truncated as she told the GNA that if her parents had lived up to their responsibilities and provided her basic needs, she still would have been in school and not married with children.
The ordeal shared by Teni was supported by many teenage single mothers or girls who had been married before their 18th birthday in many rural communities in the Upper East Region.
Adompoka (not real name), is a 16-year-old mother of one who currently cohabitates with her boyfriend in the Bongo District after getting pregnant and dropping out of school.
According to her, she was not forced into living with the man, but her parents did not attempt to convince her to stay home and deliver since they did not want her to give birth at home.
“My parents are poor, so even if I go to school, they will not be able to pay my school fees, so I thought marrying is the best option,” she said.
Nmaah Atiah, 17-year old mother who also dropped out of school and currently lives with a man at the Kassena-Nankana West District told GNA that she did not know how to negotiate for sex and that got her pregnant.
Many girls of school going age are dropping out to marry and it is not only affecting the girl-child education and women empowerment, but deepening the poverty cycle of their families. The ordeals shared by the girls are as a result of parental irresponsibility and negligence, encouraging them to indulge in irresponsible sex behaviour.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly goal four directs all member countries to ensure that all persons have access to quality education by 2030. The goal five also talks about attaining gender parity and equality.
These targets will only remain a mirage if child marriage is not completely eliminated and parents have a big role to play by living up to their responsibilities to their children.
According to the United Nations Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF), globally, about 21 per cent of all the world’s young women, approximately, 650 million women and girls alive today were married as children, that is, before their 18th birthday.
In 2020, UNICEF estimated that 12 million young girls marry before turning 18 each year and about 37,000 girls marry each day while the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) revealed that one in five girls marries before turning 18.
Across Africa, 125 million women and girls alive today were married before turning 18 while about one third of young women in Sub-Sahara Africa marry before age 18. One in three girls marries before 18 and one in 10 girls marry before age 15 in Africa.
In Ghana, one in five girls aged 20 to 24 years marry before the age of 18 and while the national rate stood at 19 per cent, Upper East and Northern Regions have the most prevalence rate of 28 per cent each.
Child Marriage refers to any formal or informal union between a child under the age of 18 and an adult or another child. While child marriage affects both boys and girls, the girls are the most affected with prevalence rate in Ghana as four per cent for boys and 19 per cent for girls.
The situation is a human right violation, which has been criminalized in Ghana and the 1992 Constitution and the Children’s Act of 199, Act 560, frown upon.
Traditionally, the practice is deep rooted in culture and societal norms, however, over the years due to enlightenment and education, many communities have modified some of the practices but the situation still persists.
Parental irresponsibility and negligence including inability to provide the needs and reproductive health education for young people compel the girls to give themselves to men in exchange for support. Some end up getting married to these men and start having children at a young age, compelling them to drop out of school.
Mrs Georgina Aberese-Ako, Upper East Regional Director, Department of Children, said although Ghana had made efforts in reducing child marriage over the last 25 years, the issue was still prevalent and truncating girls’ education especially in rural communities in Northern Ghana.
She said many communities did not understand the importance of girl-child education and the need to keep them in school.
“Child marriage can also significantly impact a girl’s ability to continue with her education. Many girls are forced to drop out to focus on domestic responsibilities or to raise children of their own.
Parents and community leaders may not see the value in continuing to educate a girl, seeing it as unnecessary for her primary roles in life as a wife and mother,”
She said teenage pregnancy was one of the major causes of child marriage and attributed it to parents’ inability to provide basic needs including sanitary pads, shelter among others for their wards especially their daughters, compelling them to engage in transactional sex leading to teenage pregnancy and being compelled to marry.
“There are even instances where some parents encourage their daughters who are in school to go into transactional sex to help them make a living. Once such girls become pregnant, they are forced into marriage,” she added.
Mrs Aberese-Ako said apart from parents’ inability to provide accurate sexual and reproductive health information for their children, to help make informed choices regarding their sexual life to prevent pregnancy, most parents did not monitor the movement of their children, encouraging them to engage in risky behaviour.
“Once the boy can provide them whatever they want, some will drop out of school and go and stay with the boy, thinking that they are married,”
Mr James Twene, Upper East Regional Director, Department of Gender, noted that most parents perceived child marriage to be a way of reducing burden on the family’s resources and panacea to reducing poverty.
He said though the UNFPA was supporting the Regional Coordinating Council to engage stakeholders including parents, men and boys and traditional authorities in selected districts in the region to help end the menace.
The contribution of women in national development is immense and the country cannot afford to lose sight of addressing issues of girls’ education and women empowerment, this underscores the need to end child marriage in all its forms.
It is therefore not surprising that Quentin Wodon, Lead Economist at the World Bank said “primary education for girls is simply not sufficient. Girls reap the biggest benefits of education when they can complete secondary school, but we know that girls often do not stay in school if they marry early,”
While there is the need for government to implement strategic interventions aimed at ending the phenomenon, there is also the need for parents to honour their responsibilities by providing their children with their basic needs such as sanitary pads, food and shelter among others.
This, coupled with sex education at home, would prevent them from engaging in transactional sex, unprotected sex, leading to pregnancy and forced into marriage.
Ms Rose Akanson, the Upper East Regional Girl-Child Officer, said parents needed to always support their pregnant girls to stay and deliver at home and support them to return to school or support them to learn a trade instead of pushing them into early marriage.
Government needs to also design policy direction to provide economic empowerment to rural families to help reduce poverty that significantly contributes to teenage pregnancy, child marriage and school drop-out.