JOAN KEMBABAZI

UGANDA

IT TAKES A WORLD TO END CHILD MARRIAGE


'While Child marriage is defined as marriage before the age of 18 and applies to both girls and boys, the practice is far more common among girls especially in rural communities.


Moureen Gufasha and I were inseparable friends. It was on the 14 th of February 2012 when I lost Moureen from childbirth soon after a child marriage.


She was the eldest from the family of 5 children. Due to the severe months-long droughts that dried up  her family’s source of agriculture income, the family had no income to support daily expenses and school fees.  At age 13, Moureen was forced to marry a 62 year old rich man in exchange for a dowry or bride price. 


I still remember her beautiful smile, her amazing character, how bright and well she used to perform in class, and how she used to help me with my class assignments.


Her dream was to become a doctor, but she never lived to see it come into reality.


Moureen’s father claimed that she will have all the good life she wants when she married the old rich

man.  With sorrow and grief in her heart, she was forcefully sent out of her home for marriage. A few months later, she lost her life in childbirth. 


Child marriage didn’t only rob Moureen’s education, dreams, hopes and future, but it denied her the right to childhood and an adult life.


Globally, it's estimated that 12 million girls are married off every year. That is 23 girls every minute and nearly 1 every two seconds. Currently, my country Uganda is home to more than 3 million child brides. Of these, 1.3 million girls were married off before the age of 15.


Despite the fact that Child Marriage is illegal in Uganda, the violent practice is still widely practiced in so many regions of the country including my community. It continues to rob childhoods, education and futures of thousands of girls.


Poverty, climate change and inequalities are the major drivers of child marriage in my community. Girls are often asked to let go of their ambitions, to stop dreaming. They are often told that they belong to the kitchen, farmlands, bedrooms, and not in schools.


Sadly, as years passed, I realized that child marriage is not only in my community but happens around the world. I grew up witnessing many girls continue to be married off with no choice just like my friend Moureen. I always wondered what I can personally do to stop this practice in my community. But I realized that I could use and raise my voice to campaign against child marriage in my community. So I started campaigning against child marriage in my community in 2016. Little did I know that I wasn’t only standing up for girls’ rights for 1 or 2 girls in my community, but thousands of girls around the world.  


During my community activism, I could organize small groups of girls (between 12-17 years) from my neighborhood. These groups were safe spaces where we used to meet and talk about the rights that a girl has.  We also used to talk about dreams and how one can achieve those dreams. From these talks, girls were empowered with information about their rights and how they can use they can use their voices to stand up for any violence against them. 


Up to today, I am still an activist both in my community and on social media too and I am glad that many parents have been inspired to keep their girls in schools to complete their education.


I no longer just dream of a world free from child marriage, I am working for that world. I want the world to know that girls have so much potential and can only achieve it if given a chance and opportunity to unlock it.


I believe we can achieve SDG 5.3 only if we work together. And I call upon everyone (individuals, fellow activists, CSOs, Governments and all relevant stakeholders) to join and redouble efforts in the fight against child marriage. Girls deserve to just be girls. They deserve so much better than Moureen.'


Joan Kembabazi  is the Founder & CEO of the GUFASHA GIRL-CHILD FOUNDATION in Uganda. You can email her at joankembabazi1@gmail.com or read more here

JOAN KEMBABAZI