In June 2015, Uganda, under the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, launched its first ever national strategy on ending child marriage and teenage pregnancy.
It is to run from 2014/2015 to 2019/2020. With two years and eight months down the road, Uganda still holds the 18th position in world rankings among countries with the highest rates of child marriage, with the first being Niger at 76 per cent.
Currently, 15 million girls worldwide marry before the age of 18 each year, which is the equivalent of one girl every two seconds.
In the work I do, of ending child marriage in the country, one of the drivers of this terrible vice is poverty, especially in rural areas, where girls are considered sources of wealth in terms of bride price. In other areas, it is due to lack of an education for the girl child, premarital pregnancy, child abuse, domestic violence, peer pressure and social traditional cultures.
The 2011 Uganda Bureau of Statistics report shows that more than 15 per cent of ever-married women aged 20 to 49 were married by the age of 15, while 49 per cent were married by the age of 18, with a decline from 56 per cent in 1996 for women aged between 20 and 49 married below the age of 18, and 19.6 per cent for women married below the age of 15.
What happens is that child marriage eventually stops the education of the girl child because they are drawn out of school to perform marital duties.
It also undermines their health. When they go into labour, they are probably 16 with bones that are not strong enough. Their bodies are not prepared physically; neither are they psychologically prepared. They bear children without any training and orientation.
It also poses an economic burden on them because they do not have income of their own.
Girls that marry early also experience a lot of violence because most of them are married to men who are older than them, old enough to be their fathers. This means their level of understanding and experiences are different and so they are not able to negotiate on a round table on how family matters should run.
Child marriage also perpetuates domestic violence and child poverty because the girl is poor. The child they will produce is also likely to be poor and may miss going to school because the girl mother was not educated to get the empowerment to fight poverty.
As a country, Uganda needs to have a strong stand and ensure the laws on defilement are implemented, as many of these cases are not prosecuted. In some discussions I had with the police and law enforcement officers, they mentioned lack of clarity when it comes to defining child marriage and defilement. While some people argue that defilement and child marriage are the same, other law enforcement officers think they need a separate tool to disaggregate such cases.
Going forward, we need to have clarity in order to prosecute all cases. The government also needs to provide funding, especially for the national strategy, to end child marriage felt countrywide. It needs to benefit all people by the time it is evaluated in 2020.
There also needs to be a lot of sensitisation to empower Ugandans and let them know that child marriage is wrong.
The author is the executive director of Joy For Children Uganda.