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A girl holds the hand of a boy in Agadez, Niger on October 9, 2018.
© 2018 Scott Peterson/Getty Images
Earlier in July, governments, philanthropies, and the private sector pledged almost $40 billion at the Generation Equality Forum in Paris to fight gender inequality over the next five years. The aim is to accelerate progress on women’s and girls’ rights, tackling issues such as gender-based violence, economic inequality, and access to education.
Child marriage is one example of a deeply harmful, prevalent practice that needs to be addressed more urgently – rates have been consistently high over multiple decades in several countries in Africa.
Some African governments made key commitments in Paris to fight gender inequality, a major step. Burkina Faso announced commitments to work with key countries across Francophone Africa, including Niger, Benin, Togo, Guinea, and Mali to end gender-based violence, including child marriage. In Niger, 76 percent of girls were married before the age of 18 over the past 20 years.
These governments should now back their commitments with adequate resources and political will to significantly reduce child marriage over the next five years. They need to put these commitments into action with the direct support of girl-led advocacy groups.
Child marriage occurs at the intersection of sexism, poverty, and weak legal redress. In 2017, UNICEF noted that four of the ten countries with the highest child marriage rates are in Francophone West Africa, namely Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea. A 2020 brief estimates that countries in the West African region – predominantly Francophone – will have the highest number of girls forced to marry by 2050, suggesting the continent will not meet the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goal of ending child marriage globally.
Not only is progress slow, but new challenges are emerging. The COVID pandemic continues to deepen the crisis of gender inequality, worsening the situation for girls, many of whom may not return to classrooms as lockdown restrictions begin lifting.
There is still a long way to go in the fight to end child marriage in Africa. Governments need to deliver faster and better to support girls to stay in school and out of marriage.