The 25th Edition of the Day of the African Child has been celebrated across the national territory with calls for stakeholders to come on board and put an end to child marriages in some African communities. The celebrations took place at the Mankon Fon’s Palace at the level of Mezam in the Northwest Region on June 16, 2015.under the theme “25 years after the adoption of the African Children’s Charter, accelerating our collective efforts to end child marriage in Africa”.
Prior to the day, a round table conference organized by the Socio Economic Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (SEEPD) Program in collaboration with the Regional Delegation of Social Affairs took place at the Baptist Headquarters in Bamenda on June 15.
Opening the round table conference, the Regional Delegate of Social Affairs noted that the objective of the discussions was to sensitize the population on the existence of early marriage and to invite all stakeholders to put hands on deck in order to fight against the phenomenon. He said the Head of State, Paul Biya prioritizes child protection reason why it is inscribed in his policy. The Regional Delegate commended the efforts of other partners like the SEEPD program that are intentional in protecting children and ameliorating the conditions of vulnerable children.
The panelist of the round table discussion included; traditional and religious rulers, legal and medical practitioners as well as an educational expert.
From the traditional perspective of early marriage, Fon Fobuzie II of Chomba highlighted causes of child marriages in traditional settings to include engagement within the Fondom where the girl is given a husband at a very young age, marriages intended to strengthen relationships and friendships, poverty and parents trying to give the child early for marriage for security purposes. Fon Fobuzie said education, sensitization of parents and children, empowerment of the girl child, efforts to change traditional practices, are strategies to curb child marriage.
Rev. Dr. Ndondeh Godlove Director of the CBC Health Services Community Counselling Clinic regretted the fact that some religions accept the practice of child marriage which he said affects the child psychologically with some children forced into marriage responsibilities. He however noted that the Community Counselling Clinic is at the disposal of the population to provide psycho-social support to children affected and those not affected in order to prevent them from getting into child marriage.
Another panelist, Barrister Nwana Lawrence mentioned that ignorance of the law is no excuse insisting that the fight against child marriage must begin at family and council levels. The legal practitioner advised that only those who have reached the aged prescribed by the law should have their marriages legalized by the councils. He underscored that the required age for marriage for girls is 18 years while that for boys is 21years adding that the law of Cameroon frowns at child marriage. Given that child marriage affects children socially, spiritually, morally and psychologically, Lawyer Nwana called on churches, palaces, schools, organizations, families and community at large to join in the fight against the phenomenon while reporting such cases to the appropriate quarters for actions to be taken.
Featuring on the panel discussion was the Imam of the Bamenda Mosque who admitted that child marriage is very common amongst Moslems reason why 73% of girls in the North marry before the age of 18 He however said the situation is gradually reducing compared to some years back but said much still needs to be done to fight against the phenomenon. He promised to begin sensitization by preaching subject of early marriage in the mosque.
Earlier, the representative of the Regional Delegate of Women’s Empowerment and the Family revealed that the Northwest has 7% of girls who marry before the age of 18. According to her, people hardly report cases of child marriage to the delegation as some think there is nothing wrong with it. She stressed that everybody should be involved in the fight so that child marriage can completely be eradicated from the region.
The round table discussion was attended by close to 150 people amongst other dignitaries who were curious to know more about the causes, effects, and prevention of child marriage. They went back home as ambassadors to sensitize the public on the dangers of the phenomenon.
Speaking during the Day of the Africa Child proper at the Mankon Fon’s Palace, the Northwest Governor’s representative, Mr. Nji Joseph, said given the numerous effects of child marriage, the government is taking measures to fight against it like the putting in place of laws that prohibit child marriage. According to him, 17% of girls get married before the appropriate age while 6% of boys get married before the required age. He noted that the government cannot do it alone and applauded the efforts of NGOs, civil society, international bodies, while urging them to continue with the fight.