Child marriages - an enduring problem in the 21st century.

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Child marriages - an enduring problem in the 21st century.

Child marriages are an enduring problem in 21st century. In Uganda, child marriage is against the laws and constitution of the land. The Children Act, Chapter 56, child marriage is defined as any union whether formal or informal involving any person below the age of 18 years for the purpose of living as husband and wife. This legal definition of child marriage is underscored by the 1995 Ugandan constitution which sets the legal age of marriage at 18.

According to UNICEF DATA, many factors interact to place a child at risk of marriage, including poverty, the perception that marriage will provide ‘protection’, family honor, social norms, customary or religious laws that condone the practice, an inadequate legislative framework, and the state of a country’s civil registration system. An article published by Girls Not Brides in September 2020, indicated that, more than 34% of girls are married before their 18th birthday every year in Uganda, and 1 in 10 is married before turning 15. The same article notes five districts in Uganda leading with high rates of child marriage, namely, Kamwenge, Kiryandongo, and Kyegegwa in Western Uganda, and Arua and Yumbe in Northern Uganda.

Per their research, these districts also host refugees, and the pandemic has hit already fragile local economies hard. Official reports indicate there were at least 48 cases of child marriage in Kyegegwa district alone between the start of the pandemic and the end of July 2021 and addressing child marriage in the context of increased risk to girls requires a grassroots response that includes partnering with a variety of stakeholders.

Correspondingly, girls are confined at home because of school closures and lockdown restrictions, and already-stressed families have struggled to earn a living. As a result, many families are sending their daughters to work, putting them at danger of sexual violence. Unintended pregnancy because of sexual abuse can lead to parents marrying off their daughters. According to data from a probation and social welfare official in Kyegegwa, there were approximately 5,000 adolescent pregnancies reported in 2019. Of these, 1,500 girls were forced to marry.


Despite the laws and constitution of Uganda against child marriages, the rate at which children especially girls are being married off by their biological parents and guardians remains high in various district in the country. Child marriage often compromises a girl’s development by resulting in early pregnancy and social isolation, interrupting her schooling, limiting her opportunities for career and vocational advancement, and placing her at increased risk of domestic violence.

Child marriage in this part of our world will be very hard to curb completely but I believe with strict laws and the help of stakeholders, national and international organizations related to child issues, this phenomenon can be dealt with gradually. The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) has highlighted five evidence-based strategies to delay or prevent child marriage:

  • Empower girls with information, skills, and support networks.
  • Provide economic support and incentives to girls and their families.
  • Educate and rally parents and community members.
  • Enhance girls' access to a high-quality education.
  • Encourage supportive laws and policies.


Child marriage, undoubtedly, is one of the issues that impedes the advancement of a country. As we seek to foster qualitative change, right from the grassroots, we as the Alliance for National Transformation (ANT) believe that every child deserves a chance at a productive life and promising future. We cannot envision such a life or future for our children if we marry them off. It is our responsibility as citizens to sensitize and educate fellow citizens about child marriages and the detrimental effects to has on life and ultimately, the country.

Our focus should be on fostering conditions where girls and boys can equally benefit from education and a chance to fully participate in the development of their country. Let us not shy away from speaking to both boys and girls about the dangers of early marriages, about sexually transmitted diseases, and the importance of investing their time and efforts in progressing in their academics. The law alone is not enough. We need people that are disciplined and committed to enforcing the law. It starts with our young ones knowing what the law says, but also understanding that they can be better prepared for life’s challenges if they attend to their schooling now.

By Safiatu Gasu – Intern with Alliance for National Transformation (ANT)

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