By: Asim Nawaz
KIGALI, RWANDA: Girls hailing from Mozambique, Rwanda, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Niger took center stage at a Women Deliver side event hosted by World Vision in Kigali, Rwanda on July 19, 2023. The event provided a platform for these young advocates to voice their concerns and demand action in putting an end to violence against girls. The discussions revolved around pressing issues, including the harmful practices of child marriage, sexual violence, and the challenges posed by teen pregnancy.
These girls, who are each champions in their own countries in the fight against violence targeting children, emphasized the need for accountability from leaders and collective efforts to eradicate these harmful practices. World Vision’s field and regional offices in Africa have been at the forefront of advocating for the elimination of harmful practices such as child marriage, female genital mutilation (FGM), and sexual violence through their campaign “It Takes A World to end violence against children.”
Various African countries, including Chad, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Senegal, Somalia, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia, have prioritized the elimination of child marriage, while others like Rwanda and Burundi focus on addressing issues like teen pregnancy, sexual violence, and physical violence.
Lilian Dodzo, World Vision Eastern Africa Regional Director, stressed the significance of listening to empowered girls’ voices during the Women Deliver Conference in Kigali. She emphasized the organization’s commitment to collaboration and engagement with Member States, the private sector, UN agencies, donors, civil society organizations, and faith leaders to bring an end to violence against children.
Girls across some African countries continue to face negative social norms and harmful practices, resulting in gender inequality across social, political, and economic spheres. Violence against children, gender-based violence, harmful practices, and female infanticide prevent girls from reaching their full potential, and humanitarian challenges like drought and conflict further exacerbate issues such as teen pregnancies.
One of the distressing practices affecting millions of girls and women globally is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), which is prevalent in 29 African countries. In Ethiopia, Sudan, and Somalia, FGM affects 65%, 87%, and 99% of girls and women aged 15-49 years, respectively.
Child marriage remains a significant concern, with 31% of women aged 20-24 years in East and Southern Africa, and 37% in West and Central Africa having been married before the age of 18. Niger holds the highest prevalence with 76%, while other countries like the Central African Republic, Chad, Mali, Mozambique, Burkina Faso, and South Sudan also face high rates.
The practices of child marriage, female genital mutilation, sexual and gender-based violence are all direct violations of international, regional, and national child rights and human rights treaties, including the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
World Vision’s participation in the Women Deliver conference in Kigali underscores the call on governments, donors, the private sector, faith-based organizations, and stakeholders to increase investments in social protection, education, health services, and economic strengthening to combat various forms of violence against children. Strengthening partnerships between governments, donors, and faith leaders is crucial to effectively implement laws, policies, and plans aimed at ending child marriage, FGM, sexual violence, teen pregnancy, and child association with armed groups. Additionally, it is imperative to hold governments accountable for the commitments they make, including legislation, policies, standards, and plans to protect children.
Inclusion of children and women in decision-making processes for national, regional, and international policies and declarations is also emphasized. Addressing the root causes of conflict and climate change is essential, as they often create and exacerbate hunger hotspots, reversing progress made by vulnerable children and families in escaping poverty.
The Women Deliver 2023 conference serves as a crucial global platform to address issues of gender equality, health, rights, and well-being for girls and women, and to pave the way for a brighter, more equitable future.