PARENTS find it irresistible to send their underage daughters into marriages as this is seen as the only escape route out of poverty, says a social worker.
In an interview, Joseph Moyo, who is the founder and president of The African Woman Foundation (TAWF), said some girls from poverty ravaged families also see marriage as a shortcut route out of poverty.
“Some parents in poverty find it irresistible to marry-off their daughters as escape route from poverty…this to me, is “a throw overboard technique”: When the ship is sinking, throw off some load into the waters to lighten the ship and stop it from sinking. This is what low-income families’ do – shedding off excess baggage in form of girls for them to survive,” Moyo said.
He added that this is a way to transfer the cost of raising a girl to a man who marries her, ensuring that only fewer children remain at home in the scramble for limited resources.
“When a family is poor, the more attractive and easier way to earn some income is through the bride price. When wealthier men approach a low-income family with bride/dowry price offering for their daughters, it is hard for them to turn it down. Parents in poverty tend to jump at these financial offers and give out their daughters into marriage, regardless of their ages and unpreparedness. To some poorer parents, the chance of owning a herd of cattle paid as the bride price/dowry is the only way to move out poverty. The bride price becomes the motivating factor in giving out their underage girls into marriage,” Moyo added.
He said society must be educated not to dispose of young girls into the gloomy abyss of marriages as a way of acquiring supposed wealth and shedding off excess baggage of responsibility in caring for their children.
“This, in itself, is a disgrace to all humanity and a gross violation of the rights of the girl child, most especially the African girl-child, who is more at risk,” Moyo said.
He added that the consequence of child marriages more often than not, compromises the development of a girl as it results in early pregnancy and social isolation.
Moyo said this interrupts a girls education, limits her career and vocational advancement opportunities, and exposes her to an increased risk of domestic violence and disease infections, especially HIV.
“Research shows that girls, who are below the age of 15, are five times more likely to experience death during childbirth compared with women that are in their 20’s. Such girls also stand at a higher risk of pregnancy-related injuries like obstetric fistula. Furthermore, it is often difficult, if not impossible, for child brides to negotiate safer sexual practices. Thus, they face a higher risk of HIV and other STIs. Unfortunately, the negative consequences of child marriage even extend beyond these girls themselves as children that are born to child brides have a 60 per cent chance of experiencing death in the 1st year of life, in comparison with the ones that are born to mothers, aged above 19. Also, families of child brides are more likely to experience poverty and inadequate health care,” he said.
Moyo said some cultural practices play a role in the issue of child marriages, such as some people believing that when a girl married off at an early age she is the ‘best’.
“These traditions and customs are woven into the fabric of such societies or communities as a whole. This leads to the acceptance of the ugly inhumane practice of marrying off girls at a young age as normal. There is also the belief by some men in some cultures that marrying young virgin girls is a source of pride. These poor young virgin girls are treated as trophies, evoking pride in men, who regard marrying under-aged girls as bragging rights,” he said.
“In the same vein, there is another belief that under-aged girls, who are still virgins, attract more bride/dowry price, which in turn helps to lift poorer families out of poverty. The girls are thus used as a means out of poverty. There is a rush in some cultures and a fear that if a young girl stays too long without marriage, once she loses her virginity, her stocks in terms of bride price diminish and plummet if she is impregnated outside wedlock. That leads to a rush to cash in before the value of the bridal stocks depreciate,” Moyo said.
He added that girls should not be kept as stocks that can be cashed in by society to the highest bidder and used as a means out of poverty.
“They must be left to grow, to go to school, to become mature (physically and mentally), and to become independent human beings, who are not reliant on men for survival. African girls must be treated with respect and dignity as a human, and not as men’s trophies. They must not be traded and listed as stocks in what I call “Community Stock Exchange” (CSE). We must advocate for total and complete end to the commodification of the African Girl and Woman,” indicated Moyo.
He revealed that in West and Central Africa, 14 per cent of girls are married-off at the age of 15 and 42 per cent at the age of 18 while the Sub-Saharan Africa it is 12 per cent for girls aged 15 and 40 per cent for girls aged 18.