July 23, 2018
Child marriage is a violation of child rights, and has a negative impact on physical growth, health, mental and emotional development, and education opportunities. While regional disparities exist, child marriage has significantly decreased from 47 per cent (2006) to 27 per cent (2016). It also affects society as a whole since child marriage reinforces a cycle of poverty and perpetuates gender discrimination, illiteracy and malnutrition as well as high infant and maternal mortality rates.
Poverty is one of the greatest diseases that has plagued Africa in general and Cameroon in particular. It is a state of always being in want whereby thousands of people go for days without food or are not sure of getting a square meal per day. Rural communities are most affected by poverty in Cameroon. These areas are characterized by high mortality rates, high rates of illiteracy, high levels of underemployment and dependency rates. Not everyone in these communities are poor but the weaker members are vulnerable in as they are exploited by those who are financially stable in many ways. Some of the consequences of poverty are hunger, little access to health facilities, no access to education and early marriages.
Marriage is a union between a man and a woman. It is a mutual agreement whereby, a mature man and woman accept to live together as one for life. As a result of poverty, young and underage girls in most rural communities in Cameroon are forced to marry men old enough to be their fathers. Therefore, early marriages are forced unions between underage children or between an underage child and an adult.
According to the Resource Information Center (2002), the legal age for a child to get married for girls is 15 years and 18 years for boys, as stipulated by the Cameroonian laws. Despite these laws, it is common to find girls below this age in rural areas already married. In addition, statistics from the UNFPA in 2016 also indicated that, 20 percent of girls aged 15-19 in Cameroon, are already married.
Poverty is the main reason behind early marriages in rural areas as most families have large family sizes. With such families, most parents are unable or unwilling to take care of their children. Early marriages are therefore seen as opportunities to reduce this burden. Others who cannot feed or send their children to school, give young girls off marriage to older men. Some parents arrange marriages between their children and their creditors as a way of settling debts. The main argument here is, if early marriage will end poverty in these families.
The big answer is “No” as the chain of poverty continues and in some cases, aggravates poverty in these families. The impact is mostly felt by underage brides, especially in areas with no hope for empowerment. With little or no education and skills, most of them remain unemployed. This only increases the rate of dependency and intensifies poverty levels.
Sensitization and campaigns need to be carried out in rural areas in Cameroon. This is to transform the minds of parents who still believe in early marriages. They have to be educated on income generating activities that can help them take care of of their families.
United States Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, Cameroon: Information on Forced or Arranged Marriages, 16 October 2002, available at http://www.refworld.org/docid/3f51ec864.html. Accessed on the 28 May 2018.
UNFPA, New rules to help end child marriage in Cameroon, 06 October 2016, Available at https://www.unfpa.org/news/new-rules-help-end-child-marriage-cameroon. Accessed on the 28 May 2018.
About the Author: Nkwain Adeline Yafi is a Cameroonian writer. She holds a Double Bachelor’s Degree in Women and Gender studies and law and is currently in her final year as a Masters student in Peace, Conflict and Security at University of Buea in Cameroon. Poverty alleviation has always been her passion as it is one of the biggest concerns in the world today. She has particular interest in studying vulnerable groups, like women, children, the elderly, prisoners, people with disabilities and minority groups, who are the most affected by poverty and hunger. Adeline has served in several organizations like Women in Action against Gender Based Violence, The Social Centre (Ministry of Social Affairs, Cameroon) and Human is Right.
*This is an independent opinion editorial and does not necessarily reflect the views of WHES.