The African Union launched its first campaign to curb child marriage in Africa last week, in cooperation with African governments, UNICEF, the UK Department for International Development, and several civil society organizations.

Nana and Zakia Abdulrahman Mohamed Ahmed, sisters and child brides from Darfur, via UNAMID

Nana and Zakia Abdulrahman Mohamed Ahmed, sisters and child brides from Darfur, via UNAMID

“What we are seeing today is an Africa-wide movement of leaders and organizations collectively saying ‘No to Child Marriage,’” said Martin Mogwanja, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF. “This push led by Africans for Africans must not stop until every girl in every family and every community has the right to reach her 18th birthday before getting married.”

The campaign will run for an initial two-year period, with national launches in anticipated in at least 10 countries. The campaign will focus on policy action, raising awareness, and implementing legal frameworks that protect children. Some countries already have additional strategies in mind. Zambia is involving traditional chiefs to change the cultural norms around child marriage.

As many as 17 million girls across the continent, or 1 in 3, are married before age 18, often against their will. Child marriage rates are the highest in Niger (75%) and Chad (68%). Girls who are married as children face sexual violence and abuse, are more likely to suffer from maternal death and injury due to early pregnancies or other complications, and are less likely to get an education.

Media Resources: UNICEF 5/29/14; Feminist Majority Foundation Blog 7/26/13, 9/9/13, 5/9/14

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