Twenty-five years ago in 1990, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child was adopted. Today, on the International Day of the African Child, we celebrate those 25 years and reflect on the progress that has been made to date, and the long road that still lies ahead. This year’s theme is Accelerating our Collective Efforts to End Child Marriage in Africa, and is an especially important one.
Child marriage remains a worldwide issue, affecting millions of girls (and many boys) around the globe. Too often these early marriages happen without a girl’s consent, and deprive her of the chance to continue her education. Early marriage and teenage pregnancy can result in childbirth injuries, such as obstetric fistula, or worse: the biggest cause of death in 15 – 18 year old girls is childbirth.
Rahila is one such child bride that comes to mind. Growing up in rural Guinea, she never had the opportunity to attend school and got married at the tender age of 14. She sells donuts and works in the field for a living.
Sadly, her own mother died as a result of a complicated delivery when Rahila was only two years old. As for Rahila, she got pregnant as a young bride soon after her wedding. Her pregnancy went well but she never received antenatal care from a doctor or trained health care worker. When the time came to deliver, things got complicated. She labored for nearly two days before finally being brought to a hospital facility, where a stillborn baby was delivered via C-section.
Still grieving over the loss of her child, Rahila soon found herself leaking urine and feces uncontrollably – the difficult delivery had left her incontinent due to an obstetric fistula. Life for Rahila changed dramatically. It became difficult to work or leave the house at all. Friends and family began to treat her differently, and she became isolated from her community. She lived this way for over two years before she heard about free treatment at Ignace Deen Hospital in Conakry, a site we fund through our partner Women and Health Alliance International (WAHA).
The dedicated surgeons and staff at Ignace Deen Hospital operated successfully on Rahila and healed her fistula. Thanks to this surgery, she is no longer leaking and looks forward to leading a fuller life within her community.
There are girls like Rahila all across Africa, whose childhoods are interrupted by marriage and often result in their becoming a parent before they are physically and emotionally ready. Thankfully, the world is making steady progress in bringing child marriage to an end. Path-breaking organizations like Girls Not Brides are bringing stakeholders together to create a worldwide movement against child marriage. Inspiring advocates like Malala are keeping the issue of girls’ education at the forefront of the global agenda. And celebrations like today’s Day of the African Child remind us of the tremendous need to not only maintain, but accelerate our efforts in this critical area.
To learn more about what you can do to help end child marriage, please visit www.girlsnotbrides.org.