Girl summit drums up support for fighting FGM and child marriages in Uganda

The fight to alleviate female Genital Mutilation and child marriages received a boost on 22nd January, 2015 when UNFPA in Uganda together with DFID jointly organized a post girl summit at YES centre in Nsambya. The summit came as a follow up onto the first girl summit held in London in July last year which aimed at mobilizing domestic and international efforts to end female genital mutilation (FGM) and child, early and forced marriages.

In Uganda, the rate of child marriage, 40%, is higher than the African average of 39%. A number of factors contribute to this high rate, including poverty, gender norms and expectations, culture and tradition. It is reported that many poor parents see their daughters as a means for getting dowry and a source of income once married off.

The Kampala summit thus sought to consolidate some of the achievement and commitments made while in London by world leaders as well as draw participant’s views on issues that affect the girl child and enlist views of young people on the prevailing realities surrounding the girl child in our society. The dialogue was grounded on the leading causes of child marriages and issues such as culture, poverty and domestic violence, harmful practices such as FGM and parental negligence were highlighted as conduits for child marriages and teen pregnancies. Pics https://www.flickr.com/photos/unfpauganda/sets/72157650110411598

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Photp Credit UNFPA

As a typical dialogue, there were heartbreaking back and forth discussions as girls from mostly affected communities including Karamoja region, Sebei, and central regions shared shocking revelations of what they experience in their daily lives.  Girls from Karamoja region revealed how their peers are forced into marriages as young as 12 years. It was shocking to learn that many girls who find themselves in early marriages also see marriage as the only option for survival after they have dropped out of schools. It is further mentioned by many Girls who testified that they hardly have any opportunities of getting assertive because in the rural areas they are only prepared for marriage and looking after their men as well as producing children. Heated views on sexuality, preferential treatment of girls, dowry, defilement, violence and heavy domestic responsibilities offered to the girls by their parents arose from the audience and panelists.

Many girls also confessed to be be treated as inferior compared to the boys and that in some societies like in Sebei many have been forced into marriages with elderly men as some parents give them away for marriage. Worse still that is in Sebei region female Genital mutilation is highly practiced which put many girls lives at risk especially during child birth. It was also further echoed at the event that men also largely use materials to appease the girl’s parents and due to poverty, most parents willingly send their daughters even without her consent. The denial of educating of the girl child is another common practice in Uganda communities due to arrogance and selfishness of some parents,who do not see the value of educating a girl child. It is rather unfortunate that parents believe that girls are a waste of resources as they prepare them for marriage roles.

Speaking at the same event, the Resident Director General for country programmes of the UK’s DFID Ms Joy Hutchison noted that FGM and child, early or forced marriages are two harmful practices which stand in the way of girls’ potentials affecting millions of girls every year. One in three girls in developing countries including Uganda is married by the age of 18. “Girls who marry young are at a higher risk of death during child birth. They are also likely to have fewer economic opportunities and are vulnerable to poverty due to time and financial expenses on child care”. Said Hutchison. She further castigated gender related stereo-typing and violence towards girls and challenged the young people to fight it. She also explained why girls need to get involved in the decision making spaces on issues that affect them.

The dialogue ended with remarks from the minister for Gender, labor and social Development Hon Mary Karoro Okurut who thanked the UK government for their continued support towards the well being of girls and pledged government support. “Empowerment of women and girls is our commitment as government and we have put in place legal and policy provisions to fight FGM and child marriages. Government has put in place the child helpline (116) an initiative with support from donor partners including Unicef and this dialogue will inform the end child marriage action plans that government will finalize this year”. The minister said. She also called on the media to play a crucial role by reporting case and raise awareness about the vice in society. She extended a word of encouragements to girls and called on them to be vigilant. “Success is not about what someone has achieved, but how many hurdles you been able to overcome” Said the Minister.

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