The concept of early marriage for girls as practiced in some parts of Africa raises serious concerns about the continent’s growth and development. Although UNICEF says the number of such marriages is on the decline, awareness of the dangers and possible human rights abuses of early marriage remains important. VOA English to Africa reporter Joana Mantey spoke with some Ghanaians about their opinions of early marriage.
Samuel Amoako is a mason. He sees nothing wrong with early marriages for young girls. For him, the practice is more than security against sexually transmitted diseases. On a hot and humid day in Accra, Ghana, Amoako is busy at work.
“Early marriage is good for preventing prostitution and all kinds of bad things and at the same time, you can get advice from each other.”
Amoako says he earns only eight dollars a day. He thinks early marriage helps other men like him to manage their meager incomes. Otherwise, he says men waste money on drinking and other frivolous things.
Afriyie Gifty, a housewife in Accra, also married for economic reasons. Her parents were poor, and her aunt, who had been supporting her, left to work abroad. At age 16, Gifty’s parents felt the solution was clear.
“I loved going to school, but when things became very difficult I stopped and then accepted a proposal for marriage from a man who expressed interest in me.”
Gifty says she was not worried about the 12-year age difference between herself and spouse-to-be. Nor did she worry about her loss of freedom or mobility.
When she was married, Gifty says she knew little about reproductive health issues, for example, her menstrual cycle. She says she knew little about other the dangers of early marriage for young women whose reproductive systems are not yet mature.
At the time she married, she believed that some illnesses like malaria and typhoid fever could be contracted through sex. She did not know much about venereal diseases.
Gifty’s main regret is her failure to finish school.
Now 28 and a mother of two, Gifty stresses the significance of education over marriage as a means to secure a prosperous future.
”No, no, I am determined to keep my children through school at all cost because that is the best way to a secure future.”
A researcher at the University of Cape Coast, Kofi Awusabo Asare, also agrees that education, and not early marriage, is key to meeting the development needs of the country. He is happy that the practice of child marriage is said to be waning in Ghana.
“Within the last 20 years, age at first menses has declined in this country. On the other hand age at first marriage is also increasing, so the gap between physical maturity and marriage has also increased. So the question is: what do we do in order that the girls will protect themselves and be able to go to school and learn a trade before they get married without getting pregnant?”
Professor Awusabo Asare says fresh opportunities must be created to meet the needs of adolescents. He says universal primary education, one of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, means marriage should be postponed to a later date.
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