The Organisation of African First Ladies Against HIV and AIDS (OAFLA) has pledged to engage all stakeholders in their determination to end child marriage on the continent.
It said child marriage, which is on the increase in Africa, was a gross violation of human rights that affected the health of millions of young girls.
said child marriage, which is on the increase in Africa, was a gross violation of human rights that affected the health of millions of young girls.
The First Lady of South Africa, Mrs Thobeka Zumah, represented OAFLA members at the High Level Dialogue on the Linkages between Child Marriage and HIV and AIDS at the ongoing 21st International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa.
The High Level Dialogue, organised by the African Union Commission and the Ford Foundation, aims to highlight and share lessons on the AU Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa—highlighting the leadership role played by African institutions such as the AU, OAFLA and other key partners in driving the campaign to end child marriage.
It will also gain a better understanding of the intersections between child marriage, HIV and the programme, legal and policy context— initiating collaboration and partnership between child marriage and communities with HIV infections—in order to enhance effective and sustained impact.
Mrs Thobeka said Africans could not condemn colonialism while they continued to accept practices that were harmful and violated their human rights.
She said a number of OAFLA members on the continent had launched their ending child marriage campaign and were determined to bring the adolescents at the forefront of all issues concerning their sexual reproductive health.
According to her, each year, about 14 million adolescent girls worldwide are forced into marriage by their parents and in the developing countries one in three girls is married before the age of 18 and a girl out of nine at the age of 15.
The South African First Lady indicated that there were 41 countries worldwide with a prevalence rate of child marriage by 30 per cent or more, and of this number 30 were in Africa.
Mrs Thobeka said child marriage had a devastating effect on society and a collaborative approach in tackling the issue was crucial, adding that child marriage needed a new direction in eradicating it.
“As African First Ladies, we are driven by passion to do what we are doing; we sit close to political power and we have to use this power to impact on our society,” she said.
She called on governments on the continent to invest resources to educate adolescents to enable them to contribute meaningfully to the socio-economic development of the continent.
For her part, Ms Hilary Pennington, the Vice President of Ford Foundation, said the AIDS 2016 conference themed “Access equity rights now” presents an opportunity to establish a clear path towards guaranteeing that no one was left behind in the AIDS response, including girls at risk of child marriage and those already in marriage.
She said girls who married early were forced to drop out of school and that made them vulnerable to adolescent pregnancy and domestic violence, “as they have limited power in negotiating safe sex and are far less likely than boys to have a comprehensive knowledge about HIV and AIDS.”
She stressed that child marriage was not just a violation of human rights but also a public health issue.
She said emphasising girls enrolment in schools, employment, life-skills, sexual reproductive health and rights and family planning services to already married girls would help raise awareness of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
The African Union Commissioner for Social Affairs, Dr M. S. Kaloko, said in order to provide a bright future for millions of women and girls, the AU, together with a variety of partners, including the Ford Foundation, launched the African Union campaign in Africa in May 2014.