INTRODUCTION

As in most countries in sub-Saharan Africa, child marriage remains a major challenge for all development actors in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), despite our best efforts.

The malingering prevalence of child marriage is explained largely by traditional and customary factors.  In DRC, girls are discriminated against more in rural areas than in urban areas.  Their gender is considered inferior to the male, and their utility as a transactional object – not unlike livestock – means that many are considered suitable for marriage from the first day of menstruation, and are ‘sold’ accordingly.

The Youth Forum on SDGs (Youthfim) is a youth organization  that works  to  inform,  inspire and involve  young  people  in  the  process  of  development by encouraging the development of girls through education  around  the  sexual and reproductive health rights, and child  marriage.  Our field diagnosis identified factors such as lack of education, poor family planning access, rural residence and poverty as the most obvious identifiers at the root of most child marriages.

It should be noted at the outset that child marriage and pregnancy are intimately linked - either oftentimes incites the other! And because of poverty, a teenager who has fallen pregnant at an early age or outside of wedlock is often abandoned by her family to live with the family of the father of her child, a peculiar dynamic known as “YakaToVanda”.  In most cases, the boy does not have the means to support the pregnant woman, and does not remain faithful.

WHAT WE HAVE ALREADY DONE 

Many young people believe something that should not, otherwise, be controversial: that a girl has dreams and ambitions that she can achieve as well as any boy, if provided enough opportunity; that she has enormous potential, is capable of changing the world, and has the ability to ensure a better future for herself and the development of her country.

It is said that to educate a woman is to educate an entire nation, as she is then given the tools and skills to change the world in a positive way.  This philosophy inspired us to launch the ‘Red Card for Early Marriage in the DRC’ campaign, which sought to bring about a change of mentality, attitudes, and practices that enabled the exploitation of children through media advocacy campaigns so we could sensitize girls, government officials, families and religious leaders on the consequence of child marriage in our society.  We met with young girls, political authorities, families, and traditional and religious leaders to educate them on the adverse consequences of child marriage, and collaborated with international organizations working to implement programs that provide viable opportunities for married girls to find work, and develop independence.

The Red Card for Early Marriage in the DRC campaign worked towards the more effective enforcement of existing laws that condemn early marriage, and created ‘Safe Spaces’, a confidential framework to inform adolescents about their rights to prevent being forced into child marriage.

CHALLENGES

Poverty remains the major cause of early marriage.  Because of the country's troubled economic system, most parents cannot send all of their children to school.  Because of this, it is seen as a wiser fiscal move to send the boy to school while the girl is oriented towards marriage.  In terms of prevention, the strategy of reducing the poverty of girls through educational empowerment has proven its worth in mant countries, but is not yet widely supported in the DRC.

There are numerous challenges associated with the limitations placed upon girls, both internally and externally.  A teenager with children, also know as a "Girl-mother", may well understand our message, but still does not know how to get out of her marriage.  When a girl-mother has a child, or many children, she has fewer resources, less mobility, and greater guilt about leaving her marriage.  When she has no children, she might be more able to willingly leave her marriage, but this brings the challenge of being referring to a social reintegration center so that she can learn to be autonomous – something a child who has moved from her parents’ home to her husband’s may never have experienced.


At the state level, policies lack appropriate penalties for early marriage offenders, and taboos around female sexuality of all ages create a lack of family planning resources for adolescent girls.

WHAT GIRLS NEED TO PREVENT CHILD MARRIAGE: NEXT STEPS 

Increased number of youth centers in remote settings to provide access to appropriate health care to adolescent girls.

Free primary education at a national level, so girls are not forced into marriage through lack of opportunity. 

Destigmatize female sexuality so family planning tools can be made available to girls who need it the most – the unmarried, the adolescent, and those trapped in early marriage.

Policies that place tougher penalties on adults who facilitate or engage in an exploitative early marriage.

Meet the Author.