Child marriage/forced marriage in Uganda 

The term child marriage refers to both formal and informal union in which a girl lives with a partner before reaching the legal age, according the constitution of Uganda. In the same vein this simply means marriage before a girl is physically or physiologically mature enough to bear the responsibilities of marriage and child bearing.

Early marriage to a greater extent is mainly enforced by the parents/careers as a result of poverty and it is also considered as forced marriage. It is conducted without the consent of one or both parties, and is a marriage in which duress whether physical or emotional is a factor. Any child marriage constitutes a forced marriage even if a child gave their consent, any one below the age of 18 is not allowed nor able to make a fully informed choice whether or not to marry.  

Child marriage is a global problem affecting millions of girls across the world. It is considered a human right violation because it robs girls of their education, health and future prospects. 

1 in 7 girls in developing countries are expected to marry before 15, this equates to nearly half of 331 million girls in developing countries which are expected to marry before their 20th birthday.

Data of Child Marriage 

According to demographic surveys which provides much of the current country level data relating to child marriage. Child marriage is most common in the world’s poorest countries. The highest rate is in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and the Caribbean.

Uganda ranks highest for early and forced marriage. 10% of girls are married off before the age of 15 and 40% of girls are married off before their 18th birthday. That is 50% of the population’s girls being forced into underage marriage. 

The impact of child marriage on human rights of women and girls in Uganda

Universal declaration of human rights (1948) article 16:2: marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses. Therefore early and forced marriage is a violation of human rights. Child marriage denies girls their rights to health, education to live in security and to choose when and whom to marry. 

There are a number of consequences associated with early marriage and this involves physical, developmental, psychological and social implications.

Physical consequences 

Children have high chances of becoming pregnant at an early age and there is a strong correlation between the age of a mother and maternal mortality. Girls 10-14, are more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than women 20-24 and girls aged 15-19 are twice as likely to die. Young mothers face high risks during pregnancies including complications such as heavy bleeding, fistula. Infection, anemia and eclampsia which contributes to higher mortality rates of both mothers and children.

At a young age, a girl has not developed fully and her body may strain under the effort of child birth which can result in abstracted labour and obstetric fistula. This can be also caused by the early sexual relations associated with child marriage which take even before monarch.

Child brides may also suffer vulnerability to Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and other sexually transmitted infections (STI’s). Young girls in Africa are being infected at a considerably disproportionate rate to that of boys. 

Developmental consequences 

Child marriage also has considerable implications for the social development of child brides. In terms of low levels of education, poor health, and lack of agency and autonomy.

Whilst girls in Africa are already less likely to attend school than boys, particularly in poorer households, the non-education of the girl child is a problem compounded by child marriage.

Lack of education also meant that young brides often lack knowledge about sexual relations, their bodies and reproduction exacerbated by the cultural silence. This denies the girls the ability to make informed decisions about sexual relations, planning for a family and their health. 

The nature of early marriage results in low level of education, life skills, increased vulnerability to abuse and poor health.

Psychological and social consequences 

Women who marry early are more likely to suffer abuse and violence, with inevitable psychological as well as physical outcomes. Studies indicate that women who marry at a young age are more likely to believe that it is sometimes acceptable for a husband to beat his wife and are therefore more likely to experience domestic violence themselves. The violent behavior can take the form of physical harm and/or psychological abuse. Threatening behaviors and assault such as rape is sometimes perpetrated by the husband’s family and husband himself. Girls that enter families as a bride often become domestic slaves for the in-laws also. 

Effective Strategies to combat the early marriage and forced marriage

  • Empower the youth to manage their sexual and reproductive issues through different approaches i.e. peer-to-peer approach, comprehensive sexuality education in schools, life skills based education, youth information centers.
  • Child marriage is considered the worst form of gender-based violence, programmes such as “go back to school” focusing on enrolling and retaining girls in schools until they complete and attain quality learning outcomes should be maintained among communities
  • Ending child marriage requires consolidated efforts of all organizations and stake holders including government, civil society organizations, Non-government organizations, Faith Based organizations and Community Based organizations. Therefore, networks, coordination and collaboration of all different stakeholders and organizations from community to national level should be strengthened.
  • There is urgency need to roll out the policies, bylaws, programmes and strengthen the linkage between the lower local governments at the village level to district level to revamp and enforce them for the protection of children from all forms of abuse and exploitation
  • There is also a need to strengthen networking, operationalization, systematic documentation, referral mechanism and follow up on the cases of abuse, improved coordination among key actors and advocates for protection of children.
  • The government and other organizations should put emphasis on supporting schools with scholastic materials; carry out refresher training for teachers and other programmes that create conducive learning environments for the retention of girls in schools.
  • Mothers are said to be more supportive to their daughters compared to fathers. The government should support women enterprise development programmes, by establishing a targeted fund for women to address credit access constraints so that they can support the education of their daughters. 
  • Addressing the root causes of child marriage, including poverty, gender inequality and discrimination, the low value placed on girls and violence against girls.

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