In February 2016, Ghana launched its campaign to end child marriage. According to UNICEF data, as of 2015 Ghana's national child marriage rate was at 21 percent. This data represents a 4 percent decrease from 2013. The legal age for marriage in Ghana is 18 however, with parental consent children can get married as young as 16. As a 31 year old I often wonder if I'm ready for the commitment of marriage; I know for a fact know that my sixteen year old self wasn't physically, intellectually, or emotionally ready for marriage. As such, when I hear and read reports of our children marrying or being married off at sixteen or in many cases much younger, I question the conditions under which a family, community, country allows this practice to prevail. “Any time a child is married, it is a reflection of our failure as an international community to care a little more; we cannot continue to fail, let us protect our girls,” Mrs. Lordina Mahama
Child marriages persist as a result of the dire economic conditions Ghana and other countries in the Global South find themselves. Ghana's economic growth and development is disproportionate and a select group, usually concentrated in more metropolitan areas are benefitting. Development has been rapid in Ghana for the last couple of years however, with a reasonable majority of the country's population living in rural areas with limited access to equitable resources and quality education, a good number of girls and boys are being denied opportunities to ready and competitive in the ever changing global economy.
"Girls from the poorest 20% of the households were more than 10 times as likely to be married/in union before age 18 than girls from the richest 20% of the households." (girlsnotbrides.org). Coupled with economic reasons child marriages prevail nationally and especially in the northern regions of Ghana for cultural reasons; the rate is highest in the three northern regions at 39 percent. The three northern regions are more rural in comparison to other parts of the country and as such, while many testify to Ghana's rapid development, the development is disproportionate and unequal. In Greater Accra and the Ashanti regions, Ghana's most metropolitan and urban regions report 27.1 and 29.1 percent early marriage rates respectively (UNICEF, 2015)
How do we support Ghana's campaign to end child marriage? With such staggering statistics, I believe it is more realistic for us to aim at curbing the rates of early child marriage. This can be done by providing equal access to education for all children especially our girls. The education we ought to offer should be dynamic and accommodating; education should be aware of the ever changing pace of the world. Education should be inclusive and accommodating to the many ways we all learn. Education should equip our students to lead themselves, their class mates, school, community, and the country. Education should keep in mind the need for more civic minded public servants who will selflessly seek the betterment of one another. With equal access to education fewer and fewer children will be entered into early marriages and/or other practices that deny them of their intrinsic rights.
Elizabeth Patterson is the founder of Girls Education Initiative of Ghana (GEIG). She founded GEIG in
2013 after several experiences in Ghana where she saw the disparity in educational access for girls.
Her personal experience of acquiring a physical disability after a traumatic brain injury and
research into access to education for children with disabilities in South Africa compelled her to
make sure that at least 10% of students admitted had a special need.
Ms. Patterson holds an MPA from NYU’s Wagner School of Public Service. Prior to her work with GEIG, Ms. Patterson served as the Director of Communications and Marketing for The Council of Young African Leaders (CYAL), and Communications and Marketing Associate at Junior Achievement of New York. Ms. Patterson graduated cum laude with a BA in Political Science and Business Management from Caldwell College in 2009. Elizabeth is an AYE Fellow. Read her story her other academic works on our website.