Child marriage is an issue that affects girls and women all around the world. It impacts all the aspects of life: Health, physiological state, psychological state, economic situations, etc. In Uganda, the prevalence for girls marrying under 18 years old is over 40%, and marrying under 15 years old is about 10% (Joy for Children Uganda, 2013). As problematic as it is, child marriage needs to be stopped and many organisations are working on changing things for the better. WOUGNET is part of the Girls Not Brides Alliance, which is an alliance of many different organisations working on abolishing child marriage.
The Girls Not Brides Alliance has documented statistics about child marriage in 2016, which state that 1 in 4 girls globally are married before 18 years of age, and that 720 million women alive today were married before 18 and 250 million were married before 15 (Girls Not Brides, 2016). In Uganda, around 40 – 43% of girls are married before 18, and there are many different reasons or drivers for child marriage, like: environment/location, economic strategies, traditions, socio-cultural reasons including religion, value of virginity, security, etc.
Uganda has laws in place regarding child marriage. These indicate that girls and boys need to be 18 years and older to be legally married. The major problem though is that these laws are not being implemented or enforced, especially in rural communities, where people do not even know that child marriage is illegal. UNICEF, the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, and the Ministry of Education and Sports have been working together to implement initiatives including the us of helplines, and other diverse programs to help support girls, and children victims of abuse and violence. Other notable NGOs have implemented programs to end child marriage, but like the ones mentioned, they are still not enough to bring about major change. Unfortunately, there are multiple flaws and gaps regarding child marriage. Most gaps are linked to funding of initiatives, dysfunctional partnerships, problems with organisational strategies, negative attitudes and cultural practices, mistrust, etc. (MGLSD of Uganda, 2015).
Early Child and forced marriage is a problem in most developing countries. In 2015, the World Policy Analysis Centre found that 88% of countries have laws that indicate that the legal age for marriage is 18, but taking into consideration religious beliefs, and cultures, “in reality 58% of countries allow marriage before 18, and 31% allow marriage at 15” (Hodgkinson, K., 2016). Cultural beliefs regarding early marriage have a strong influence on communities, for example, in Cameroon, the belief is that girls should have their first menstruations under their husband’s roof. Another important reason for child marriage is the financial state of the families, where the fees spent having a child in school and a mouth to feed is a much more difficult option. Some researchers have found that if school fees were paid for, and that the families receive financial support to send their girls to school, these girls are 94% less likely to get married at an early age (Girls Not Brides, 2015).
WOUGNET has been part of the Girls Not Brides Alliance since 2012, and has been working on collaborating in the fight against child marriage. The organisation has participated in workshops organized by Girls Not Brides, meetings and represented the alliance in talk shows. A case in point was a talk show on March 29th, 2015 where WOUGNET and Joy for Children were represented the Alliance. In addition, on the day of the African child in 2016, WOUGNET had a tweeter chat where discussion was around the challenges faced by the African girl Child. WOUGNET’s program activities such as its community ICT trainings, help women and girls have access to more information. Such trainings, if continued, adopted by others and coupled with education on digital skills, relevant information on laws, policies, health, and other linked information about child marriage, could change perspectives, and help end child marriage. By teaching about social media, the organisation is able to pass on communication skills especially on how to be able to express oneself and report child marriage online safely.
Child marriage is a vicious cycle of gender based violence that needs to be stopped because it does not only affect girls and women, but the development of communities and countries. ICTs can be used in many ways to help educate and inform communities and individuals about the laws, policies, and the multiple consequences child marriage can have on women and children. WOUGNET through its program and project activities empowers women through ICTs and continues in that path. The organization has also joined forces with other organisation that educate women and girls about child marriage, child rights and human rights in addition to informing them of the existing policies, laws etc., that can help reduce the percentage of child marriage in the country. Laws and policies alone cannot change much, as they need to be enforced, however other strategies paired with them can bring about change.