Child marriage is termed as any formal marriage or informal union between a child and an adult or another child. It is considered a violation of human rights and a harmful traditional practice affecting more girls than boys.
While the prevalence of child marriage in Ghana has declined over the past three decades, progress has not been even within regions.
The key drivers of child marriage are multiple and multi-faceted and are linked to gender inequality, poverty, social norms, cultural and traditional practices as well as teenage pregnancy.
Therefore, at the heart of the theory of change of the Global Programme on Ending Child Marriage is an adolescent girl-centred approach that aims to empower the individual adolescent girl to make decisions about when and whom to marry, within a web of support that involves her family, the community, society and public structures, institutions, systems and services.
As part of activities under the UNFPA/UNICEF Joint Programme, UNFPA Ghana initiated a learning forum which brings girls together from all the GPECM regions in Ghana once a year.
The forum also brings together, development and implementing partners including government to learn and share best practices on combating child marriage, adolescent pregnancies and to create safe spaces for girls to strive.
This year’s two-day forum was themed, “Adolescents’ Learning Forum, Legislators and Delegates Conference”. The forum was also meant for the young girls and boys to meet up with Members of Parliament on the second day for mentoring and intergenerational discussions on issues affecting them across the country.
In his welcome statement, at the Adolescents’ Learning Forum 2022 (ADOLEF), at Coconut Grove Hotel in Accra on Tuesday, 29 November 2022, Mr. Barnabas Yisa, the Country Representative of UNFPA Ghana, said the forum since its inception has created a safe space for adolescent girls from the child marriage programme communities across the country to reflect on their journey, share their practical experiences and propose solutions towards zero child marriage and teenage pregnancy in Ghana.
He stressed that, this year’s ADOLEF has its focus on adolescent boys just as much as it is on adolescent girls, considering the critical role men and boys play in combating sexual and gender-based violence.
To him, lessons from the past year’s experience shows that partnering with boys and men in gender equality is crucial to ending child marriage by adopting a gender-transformative approach that promotes both the empowerment of girls and women and positive masculinities.
“Our collective effort in working with implementing partners, government, development partners and relevant stakeholders to advocate for and support practical actions to end child marriage and promote gender equality and the empowerment of adolescent girls remains crucial.
Therefore, we hope that at the end of today’s forum, the capacity of our select adolescent girls would be increased to make informed decisions about their life, develop innovative strategies to end child marriage, teenage pregnancy and other harmful practices, convey the impact of the project to stakeholders and showcase the relevance of creating safe spaces for girls,” Mr. Barnabas emphasized.
Mr. Yisa, was hopefully that the young boys and girls would find many mentors and role models, as their years of experiences and exposure will be a source of motivation for them to become the next ambassadors, programme specialists, grant officers, and country representatives, amongst others.
Ms Abigail Edem Hunu, Programme Assistant for Gender at the UNFPA, in presenting Ghana’s context on the prevalence of child marriage, she posited that 1 in 5 young women today were married before 18 years, as compared to 1 in 3 in the early 1990s.
This according to her means that the number of child brides could grow if the prevalence of child marriage remains at today’s levels.
Ms Abigail indicated that UNFPA/UNICEF Joint Programme has been supporting national agenda by prioritizing key result areas under the MoGCSP National Strategic Framework on Ending Child Marriage since (2017-2026), in the areas of National Gender Policy, National Child and Family Welfare Policy and Justice for Children Policy.
They’ve also been prioritizing support to GoG across sectors, as part of ongoing system-strengthening initiatives for relevance and long-term sustainability.
According to her, the programme works with partners across various sectors, Child and family welfare and justice systems, ASRHR, Girls’ Education, prevention of SGBV, Social protection, Gender Equality, and others.
She disclosed that, 4,500 adolescent girls have been reached with the girls’ empowerment programmes through safe spaces like PASS and SISTAS, to enhance their knowledge, education, life skills and attitudes on matters, such as their rights, relationships and sexual and reproductive health.
Also, 455 people have been reached with messages related to the protection of children, including child marriage, through mass and social media and engaged in interpersonal and community dialogues using the Child Protection Community Engagement Toolkits.
She further noted that, “2,900 men and boys reached with the targeted intervention to enhance their capacity to become champions and advocates against child marriage with the Child Marriage Community Advocacy Toolkits. 350 religious and traditional leaders engaged in dialogues and trained at national and regional levels to increase their knowledge and promote positive attitudes and practices for ending child marriage.
The National Toolkit for Engaging Men and Boys, the Curriculum for Gender Equity Clinics for Men and Boys and the National Framework for Engaging Traditional and Religious Leaders for gender equality are being developed
The capacity of 207 service providers across 10 regions strengthened in provision of coordinated SGBV response as part of the roll-out of the Minimum Essential Services Package for Women and Girls subject to Violence. 18,010 children in need of care and protection (9,243 girls; and 8,767 boys) benefitted from multi-sectoral case management services, through the scale-up of the Integrated Social Service (ISS) initiative and the Social Welfare Information Management System (SWIMS) to a total of 160 districts, out of 261.
With respect to poverty drivers, she said there has been skills training identification of the poorest adolescent girls and their families, and facilitating access to social services and programmes, including child protection, social welfare, GBV, social protection (cash transfer) and health (registration and renewal of the National Health Insurance Scheme cards).
The 3 Enterprise Development Centers established has supported 310 most marginalized adolescent girls, such as migrant head porters (Kayayei), pregnant adolescent girls and adolescent mothers, with integrated ASRH, GBV information and services and livelihood skills.”
Ms Abigail further disclosed that, the Operational M&E Plan for Ending Child Marriage in Ghana 2023-2024 is being developed by the National Coordination Function for Ending Child Marriage, chaired by the MoGCSP. Whereas the National Gender Policy and the Plan of Action to operationalize the Domestic Violence Act are also being reviewed and revised by the MoGCSP.
There were solidarity messages from IPs and DPs such as World Food Programme, UNICEF, Denmark Embassy and Department of Children.