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Day of the African Child: Ending child marriage

Day of the African Child has been celebrated for the past 24 years to draw attention to the lives of African children
Day of the African Child has been celebrated for the past 24 years to draw attention to the lives of African children

Today is International Day of the African Child – a day which focuses on the rights of the child, and shines a light on the troubles children still face in Africa.

This year the day honours the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of a Child: Accelerating our efforts to end child marriage. The treaty was created to promote the rights of the child that are particularly relevant in Africa, and aims to eliminate child marriage by urging countries to push the minimum age of marriage to 18. 

Child marriage in numbers

Child marriage is defined as the marriage of a boy or girl before they are 18. The practice is worryingly more prevalent among girls.

Marriage before the age of 18 is a violation of human rights. Yet, early marriage prevails across Africa. Following South Asia, Africa has the second highest number of child brides. According to the United Nations, by 2020, more than 140 million girls will marry before the age of 18. Of those 140 million, 50 million will be child brides before the age of 15.

Although laws against child marriage exist, the practice is upheld in part by tradition, poverty and gender inequality. Child marriage robs girls of opportunities to thrive. It also puts them at risk of early pregnancy, and effectively ends their education.

History of Day of the African Child

The Day of the African Child has been celebrated on 16 June since 1991. The day honours those who took part in the Soweto Uprising in South Africa on 16 June, 1976. In an effort to advocate for quality education, 10,000 children marched in protest. Hundreds were shot during the event and killed in the following weeks.

The Day of the African Child was implemented to celebrate children in Africa and as impetus for governing bodies and communities to renew their on-going commitments towards child rights.

SOS Children’s Village stopping child marriage

Daughter, wife, mother and victim in South Sudan

For many girls in South Sudan, forced marriages, a lack of education opportunities and early childbirth are social norms. They are also used as a financial guarantee for families. The situation facing many girls and young women is bleak.

Child Marriage victim in South Sudan with her five children
Mary and her five children sit on their only bed in Malakal, South Sudan
When Mary was a child she went to live with her uncle to start a new life. However, while Mary's cousin attended to school, Mary was put to work as an unpaid maid in her uncle's home. Her uncle later forced her to marry an older man who frequently abused her. It was not long before she became pregnant with their first child.

When girls give birth at a young age the risks of suffering painful complications and long-term discomfort are very high. Having to look after a baby also meant that Mary was unable to continue her education, something which depressed her. “I saw my cousin leaving for school everyday with her books and bag,” Mary says. “I was so jealous - I wanted to study and get clever too!”

Mary’s husband was keen to have a large family to help him with the family business. By the age of 18 Mary had three children under the age of seven. Nine years and four children later, Mary’s husband was killed in conflict. Mary fled the violence, ending up in a refugee camp.

Here SOS Children is helping her rebuild her life. During the day, her children are looked after in SOS run child-friendly spaces where they are able to learn, play and laugh. Mary is now free to return to education, something she has longed for so desperately through the years. Supported by SOS Children, Mary is learning maths, english and the skills she needs to establish her own business. “Soon I hope I will be able to be self-sufficient,” she beams.

Find out how we are helping women like Mary in our emergency relief work.