Forum wants child marriage promoters prosecuted

Nana Oye Lithur, Minister of Gender, Children and Social ProtectionA forum of stakeholders in the fight against forced child marriage in Ghana, has expressed concern about failure by authorities to prosecute perpetrators of child marriages because existing laws criminalize the practice.

They were speaking at the maiden stakeholders’ meeting on eliminating child marriage held in Accra to solicit expert inputs from stakeholders working in the area of child rights and child marriages.

The speakers were of the view that although attention was drawn to the plight of children, especially girls who were married off at early ages, there was seemingly a lack of effort or desire to prosecute those involved in perpetrating this crime such as the often older husbands and the parents.

Mrs. Rita Agyeman-Budu, a Judge, said lack of prosecution was due to such crimes not being reported to the police.

She said most child-wives, being too young, lacked the capacity to report to or go to court with such cases and those who were supposed to cater for them, that is their parents, were often in support of the men to whom  the girls were married.

Mr Agyeman-Badu said marrying and having sexual intercourse with a girl under age 18 amounted to defilement, a crime with a minimum prison sentence of seven years and maximum of 25 years.

“The laws are there and the courts are there to bite. If they come, the courts can really bite,” she said.

A representative of the anti-human trafficking unit of the Criminal Investigations Department of the Ghana Police Service said it was a difficult task to prosecute child marriage cases, mainly because of victims not reporting the crime and lack of information.

He said victims often failed to testify against the perpetrators either out of fear or because they depended on them for their upkeep.

Other stakeholders, while commending the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection for the national approach it had adopted towards dealing with the issue, urged stakeholders to broaden the scope of the three-year project to include unmarried underage girls who got pregnant.

They said many young girls were losing their lives through teenage pregnancy and childbirth as well as illegal abortions and such girls should be included in the scope of the project.

They also urged the project coordinators to consider establishing targeted working groups to focus on the different facets of the problem of child marriages since it was a broad issue with many dimensions including legal, cultural, social, economic and medical.

Dr Agnes Akosua Aidoo, Chair of the meeting and former representative of the United Nations Children’s Fund in Tanzania, as well as former Chairperson and Rapporteur for the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, said it was important to educate children, especially girls, not only on their rights but also on their responsibilities.

She said they should be educated on the need for them develop the capacity for marriage before they were either forced or opted into marriage.

Dr. Aidoo said it was critical for Ghana to ensure quality human development of its citizens and that could not be done when child marriages and poverty still persisted.

“We cannot achieve quality human development if we allow 50 percent of our girls to be married at 13 to 15 years,” she said.

She said many people in Ghana had come from humble backgrounds but had been able to make it because they were not forced into marriage at 12 or 13 years.

Dr. Aidoo also called on the government to commit more resources, especially financial into efforts to eliminate early and forced marriages.

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