Women Human Rights Defender on efforts to end Child Marriage

Children’s Corner

With Rohey Jadama

Welcome to another edition of Children’s corner. In today’s edition, we are featuring an interview Ms. Isatou Jengwith Ms. Isatou Jeng, alias Ida, who will be talking about child marriage and the steps taken at the global members meeting in Casablanca, Morocco, to end child marriage organized by Girls Not Brides and how she will be advocating for the eradication child marriage in the Gambia. This year’s Day of the African Child focuses on “25 years after the adoption of the African Children’s Charter: Accelerating our collective efforts to end child marriage in Africa”.

Children’s Corner: Can you introduce yourself to our esteemed readers?

Ida: I am Isatou Jeng, alias Ida, a Feminist and a Women’s Human Rights Defender, currently serving as the Project Officer with the Girls’ Agenda, a youth led organization founded and managed by young and dynamic women. We are operating within the 9 districts of West Coast Region and our mission is to enthusiastically advocate for the respect of the human rights of women and girls to live in freedom and dignity.

Children’s Corner: You were part of the global members meeting to end child marriage organized by Girls Not Brides in Casablanca, Morocco, can you tell us the objectives and outcome of this meeting as well as the steps taken to address child marriage in the Gambia?

 

Ida: The Global Member Meeting brought together over 250 members and other relevant stakeholders with the goal of strengthening the global Girls Not Brides partnership and accelerating efforts to end child marriage around the world. The meeting helped to achieve three things, namely:

Strengthen the global partnership through collaboration, networking and shared learning

  1. Empower and enable member organisations to build their capacity to end child marriage
  2. Develop strategic alignment at community, national, regional and global levels

As part of the youth delegation, we were mainstreamed in all the activities of the meeting with greater focus on youth engagement to end child marriage. Bringing young people at the center in addressing child marriage was the most talked about issue during the meeting which emphasised the important role we play in bringing an end to the practice of child marriage and other harmful traditional practices. A youth group, which I happened to be part of, was created to strategically continue to raise awareness and lobby for policy reforms and legislations that will support the campaign against child marriage. One of the thematic focuses of The Girls’ Agenda is child marriage and over the years we have been engaging communities and schools to end the practice in the Gambia. With partnership and collaboration with like-minded organizations, we will continue to advocate for the Gambia to clearly state in law and practice the legal age of marriage for both boys and girls. When girls are allowed to further their education, they become empowered not only for themselves but also an asset for the nation and the entire world.

Children’s Corner: What is Girls Not Brides all about?

Ida: Girls Not Brides is a global partnership with over 400 member organizations in more than 70 countries working to end child marriage. GNB was created to help bring an end to child marriage so that girls can have the opportunity to thrive and become full and equal members of society. The members of Girls Not Brides form the lifeblood of the partnership and these (members) range from small grassroots groups working at the community level to large international NGOs.

Children’s Corner: According to a UNICEF report, 42% and 37% of women between the ages of 20 and 24 respectively were married in childhood. How would you advocate for the eradication of such practice in the Gambia?

Ida: Every two seconds, a girl is married before she is physically or emotionally mature enough to become a wife or a mother. Globally, 720 million women alive today were married before their 18th birthday. Every year, they are joined by another 15 million child brides. All African countries are faced with the challenge of child marriage, a harmful traditional practice that robs girls of their education, their health and their future. I believe with concerted and joint efforts, we can bring an end to child marriage in the Gambia because it is a cultural issue, no one individual or organization can do it alone. As an activist, I will continue to engage with my colleagues and other partners to reach out to communities, schools and policy makers by promoting education as the most powerful tool to delay age of marriage. It do not only delay age of marriage for girls but also avail them the opportunity to self actualize and reach their fullest potentials.

Children’s Corner: As an activist, how do you intend to sensitize Gambians about child marriage?

Ida: It is going to be a continuous engagement by amplifying the voices in calling for an end to child marriage and other harmful traditional practices that negatively affect the bodily integrity and wellbeing of women and girls. The Girls’ Agenda, like I earlier mentioned, will continue to network with other organisations to implement activities and programmes in communities and schools in order to raise awareness on the negative impact of child marriage. Considering the high illiteracy rate in Gambia, most of the trainings I conduct are done in the local languages for people to understand and reflect on and I have seen the impact of using the native language in changing perceptions and attitudes. The Girls Agenda will continue to engage schools where girls are at higher risk of getting married but with the right information, they become empowered and determined to further their education, thereby delaying the age of marriage and working towards achieving their dreams.

Children’s Corner: Any final words?

Ida: Fortunately, we have seen a leap in commitment in the Gambia to address child marriage, with the signing and ratification of global, regional and local instruments such as the CRC, ACRWC, and Children’s Act 2005 but which will become meaningless if not enforced. If Gambia is to fulfill its vision for emergence and development, it is time to match commitment with coordinated strategies, action and resources to end child marriage and enable every girl to thrive.

Children’s Corner: Thank you for the interview.

Ida: You welcome and thank you Foroyaa for the platform.