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Machel: harmful traditions must change

Child marriage has to end, and we must value our girls more – these issues are non-negotiable if Africa is to grow and develop.

This is the message that Graça Machel Trust MD Nana Kelly delivered on 10 July 2014 at the official launch of the Regional Symposium on Ending Child Marriages. The gathering took place in Zambia at Lusaka's Mulungushi International Conference Centre, and Ms Kelly spoke on behalf of Mrs Machel, who was unable to attend.

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Courtesy of Girls Not Brides

“Harmful traditions, such as the practice of marrying girls at a tender age, continue to prevail and those who are willing to protect these practices often do so in the name of tradition. I am comforted by the knowledge that because tradition is man-made, it can change. In fact, harmful traditions must change!”

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Dr Christine Kaseba-Sata, Zambia’s First Lady

Mrs Machel’s message reinforced that of Zambia’s first lady Dr Christine Kaseba-Sata, who called for stricter laws to prevent child marriage. Children are defined as those between 0 and 17 years.

In her speech, Mrs Machel called for a rethink in the way tradition is perceived and used: “Harmful traditions, such as the practice of marrying girls at a tender age, continue to prevail and those who are willing to protect these practices often do so in the name of tradition. I am comforted by the knowledge that because tradition is man-made, it can change. In fact, harmful traditions must change!”

Every year, close to 14-million girls worldwide are married off before their 18th birthday. Fifteen of the 20 worst countries engaging in early marriage are in sub-Saharan Africa.

Girls miss out on education as a result of marrying early, and their lives and health are also threatened. It is now a commonly shared statistic that girls younger than 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s. Pregnancy is the leading global cause of death for women ages 15 to 19.

Zambia’s minister of chiefs and traditional affairs, Professor Nkandu Luo, said children should be respected and allowed to enjoy their childhood. She affirmed the country’s commitment to the campaign against child marriage. She also encouraged traditional leaders, who are the custodians of the customary laws, to reflect and consider reviewing harmful practices towards children.

The Trust works in Zambia, Malawi and Tanzania to galvanise efforts to end child marriage in those countries. It advocates for child marriage to be illegal in all African countries and for African governments to make it compulsory for girls and boys under the age of 16 to stay in school and complete their secondary education.

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