African traditional rulers pledge end to child marriage, female genital mutilation

Traditional Rulers with the UN representative
Traditional Rulers with the UN representative

Traditional and cultural leaders across West and Central Africa on Friday unanimously adopted a document detailing an action plan to end child marriage and female genital mutilation in their communities.

The action plan titled, ‘Kings of West and Central Africa Lagos Declaration on ending child marriage, female genital mutilation and other harmful traditional practices,’ was presented at the closing conference of the consultation and dialogue with traditional and cultural leaders and institutions on child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM/C) organised by United Nations Women in Lagos.

In the document, the traditional leaders agreed that child marriage and female genital mutilation are “forms of slavery, rape, brutal criminal and savagery acts, obnoxious violations of human rights and gross infringement of the values underlying our traditions, the spirit of communal self-respect.”

The UN Women conference opened on December 4 and was aimed at mobilising action and engaging traditional rulers across Africa towards ending child marriage and FGM on the continent.

Female genital mutilation, child marriage statistics ‘worrisome’ as UN women gather in Lagos

On Friday, the traditional rulers agreed to break the silence on the brutal crimes perpetrated in name of culture and traditions, recognized that the fight against child marriage and FGM/C demands the collective and concerted contribution of many actors and partners, and called on the government and other stakeholders to also do their part.

“We value accountability to ourselves on the decisions we are taking and will put in place the monitoring and evaluation approaches for us to track our own progress and seek the same of government and other stakeholders for accelerated efforts to end these practices,” the document stated.

They also threw their weight behind initiatives targeted at putting appropriate laws in place to ensure that 18 years is legalised as the accepted marriageable age irrespective of religious and cultural affiliations.

“We will contribute to ensuring comprehensive legal protection from these harmful practices, thus enshrining the age of 18 as the minimum age of marriage with no exceptions, amending existing laws in our countries that still justify child marriage based on custom or religion; seeking enforcement of criminal laws related to these crimes and promulgating our own community bye-laws to reinforce prevention.”

The traditional rulers also vowed to use their good influences with their people to fight child marriage and FGM/C while stating that as custodians of traditions, with pain, they are faced with the reality that “our region carries the highest prevalence of child marriage and FGM/C in the world, impacting millions of our girls.”

“The harmful traditional practices have devastating impact including loss of life, risk of disease such as fistula, loss of education and life opportunities, trauma and other psycho-social impacts resulting in deepening poverty and perpetuating a cycle of abuse.”

The journey to consultations with traditional and cultural leaders started when the African Union was faced with the sad reality that despite the existence of laws against child marriage and FGM in Africa, approximately 120 million girls have undergone child marriage and FGM.

The AU realised that the continental vision of ‘the Africa we want’ (Vision 2063) will not be achieved if nothing is done about child marriage and FGM and for this reason, the AU launched the AU campaign to end child marriage in 2014.

To supplement this initiative, the UN women initiated the UN women African strategy(2018-2021), birthing the engagement of traditional and cultural leaders towards ending child marriage and FGM.

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