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Keeping girls in school and out of child marriage

CAMFED works in partnership with marginalized, largely rural communities across sub-Saharan Africa, where several interlinked factors contribute to girls dropping out of – or never having the opportunity to progress to – secondary education. These include:

  • inter-generational poverty
  • deep-seated gender inequity, leading to a lack of academic self-esteem
  • a lack of secondary school places
  • a lack of qualified teachers
  • long distances to schools 
  • a strict and narrow curriculum
  • a lack of funding for school infrastructure (including safe toilets or dormitories)

In this scenario, exacerbated by the effects of climate change — with failing crops leading to increasing desperation among families — we see a high prevalence of child marriage, often as a coping strategy, although the practice is illegal in most of the countries where we work.

To address these interconnected issues, and improve educational outcomes for the most marginalized children, CAMFED trains young women school graduates in Malawi, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Ghana and Zambia as Learner Guides.

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CAMFED's Learner Guides and Leaders: Tackling Child Marriage

Rose is a leader in the CAMFED Association of women leaders educated with CAMFED support, and a trainer of CAMFED Learner Guides in Malawi.

Rose explains how she and her sisters in this powerful network rally school and community support to end child marriage, which is especially prevalent in marginalized communities, where families are too poor to support children through school.

Read Rose's own story here

Learner Guides are role models and mentors, whose own experience means that they understand the challenges many students face — including grief through the loss of close family members, and the pressure to marry young.

Learner Guides return to their local schools and deliver a bespoke life skills and wellbeing curriculum, My Better World, which aims to improve educational outcomes for children, particularly the most vulnerable. Beyond the classroom, they create an important home-school link, following up with children who drop out of school and working with communities to keep vulnerable girls safe from child marriage.

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Delivering My Better World - A curriculum developed with young people in rural Africa

Learner Guides like Dyness are ‘big sisters,’ in whom children can confide, and who children can look up to. They bring their lived experience and expertise back to their local schools, supporting overstretched teachers, while themselves gaining the confidence and leadership skills to develop new opportunities for themselves and their families.

When schools closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and children were unable to access digital learning, but also suffered the economic consequences of lockdowns — hunger, child labor, and the danger of exploitation, early marriage and early pregnancy — CAMFED Learner Guides stepped in to lend their support. Collaborating with community members, and leading with empathy, courage, agility and generosity (all personal powers explored in the My Better World sessions that Learner Guides deliver to students in their local schools) the young women switched to delivering sessions in small, socially-distanced study groups, via local radio and WhatsApp, mentoring girls in crisis and connecting families to services.

Read Dyness' blog on Learner Guide activism

Galvanizing a community of support around vulnerable girls

Learner Guides work with teachers, traditional leaders, social workers and the police to protect child rights and get to the bottom of cases of abuse, including child marriage. Learner Guides are unrivalled ambassadors for the life changing power of education, and are gaining the support from powerful and influential traditional leaders.

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Earning respect and support from traditional leaders

Traditional leaders, such as local Chiefs or village heads, are important allies in tackling child marriage. Through the commitment, community spirit and expertise, Learner Guides are forming close partnerships with local authorities to be able to tackle early marriage and advocate for girls’ education together.  Hear from some of our Learner Guides in Zambia:

We visited Chief Kashimba’s palace. He was so welcoming and this made me feel so at ease. We introduced ourselves and what the program was about. He said these were initiatives he wanted in his community and pledged his support. What was more interesting was the fact that he was part of the community sensitization meeting. This gave me the confidence and I told myself, ‘for the Chief to be part of this meeting, it means we are doing the right thing.’” – Theresah C., Learner Guide in Mwense District, Zambia

We met Chief Anananga at his palace in Lukulu District. He welcomed us very well and he said he felt honored to see young women like us in his presence. He told us to be free and frank as possible with him. He later told us to invite him whenever we have sensitization meetings, especially concerning a girl child as he had noted an increase in child abuse cases in his area. A lot of people attended the sensitization meetings because we had the Chief’s blessings.” – Mercy M., Learner Guide in Lukulu District, Zambia

The experience of meeting Chief Nalisa was so great. Every time we spoke and he nodded his head gave me and my fellow [CAMFED Association] members the confidence to proceed with what we were doing. It was also honoring when he made a commitment to take child protection issues seriously in his chiefdom and he promised that offenders would be severely punished.” – Namatama I., Learner Guide in Sesheke District, Zambia

Read an update from Chiefs in Zambia

Data deep-dive: Child marriage in the countries where we work

CAMFED mostly works in rural communities, where the prevalence of child marriage is significantly greater than in cities, and therefore higher than the national averages indicated below. All of the countries where CAMFED works have committed to eliminating child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals (Girls Not Brides 2020), yet big challenges remain. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly increased girls’ risk of child marriage due to school closures, poverty, and economic hardship, with some families seeing marriage as their only option to improve the prospects of their daughters.  The UNFPA estimates there could be an additional 13 million child marriages taking place between 2020 and 2030 across the globe that otherwise would not have occurred .

CAMFED is tackling the issue at a grassroots level, working with local stakeholders to educate communities about the risks that come with early marriage, and giving girls the emotional and financial support they need to stay in education. At the forefront of our activism are our young women leaders in the CAMFED Association, most of whom were once themselves at risk of early marriage, and have seen its devastating impact on girls in their communities. 

Malawi

  • 42%

    In Malawi 42% of girls are married before the age of 18, and 9% are married before the age of 15.

    UNICEF (2020)

  • 12th

    Malawi has the 12th highest child marriage prevalence rate in the world, although marriage below the age of 18 is now illegal.

    UNICEF (2020)

  • 2030

    Malawi has committed to eliminating child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals.

    Girls Not Brides (2020)

CAMFED Malawi has provided input into the development of the National Strategy on Ending Child Marriages, and worked closely with the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare to convene a national meeting to develop a plan of implementation. We also supported the formation of a national by-laws framework to prevent child marriage, and were invited by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology to join a task force on the National Girls’ Education Strategy.

Find out more about our work in Malawi

Zambia

  • 29%

    In Zambia, 29% of girls are married before the age of 18, and 5% before the age of 15.

    UNICEF (2020)

  • <16

    Although the legal age of marriage is 21, those aged 16-21 may marry with parental consent, and those under 16 can be married with judicial consent.

    UNFPA (2017)

  • 40%

    In 2016, the Zambian government adopted a National Strategy on Ending Child Marriage (2016-2021) aiming to reduce child marriage by 40% by 2021.

    Republic of Zambia (2016)

CAMFED is a member of the Zambian Ministry of General Education’s Technical Working Group on strategies to improve child protection and safeguarding. In 2019,  CAMFED launched its Learner Guide program in Zambia with investment through its #UnlockFutures UK Aid Match appeal. Through the program,  young women school graduates are trained to return to their local schools, deliver a life skills, wellbeing and sexual and reproductive health curriculum, and mentor and support students in their studies, ensuring girls stay in school and out of child marriage.

The program has the full support of the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of General Education in Zambia, which is looking at ways to scale it beyond CAMFED partner schools.

Find out more about our work in Zambia

Tanzania

  • 31%

    31% of girls in Tanzania are married before the age of 18, and 5% before the age of 15.

    UNICEF (2020)

  • 14

    Tanzania’s Law of Marriage Act (1971) allows for boys to marry at 18 and girls to marry at 15; and as young as 14 if courts approve their request and parental permission is obtained.

  • 2030

    In addition, Tanzania has committed to eliminating child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals.

    Girls Not Brides

CAMFED Tanzania contributed to the formulation of the National Plan of Action to end Violence against Women and Children at the invitation of the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children (MoHCDGEC).

In 2018, the Permanent Secretary of MoHCDGEC chose to present CAMFED’s Learner Guide program as best practice in tackling child violence at the End Violence Solutions Summit held in Sweden. In November 2019, as part of the Tanzania Real-time Scaling lab, the program was introduced to 31 members of the Parliamentary Standing Committee for Social Welfare and Community Development, who are looking to scale workable solutions for citizens in their constituencies.

Find out more about our work in Tanzania

Zimbabwe

  • 34%

    In Zimbabwe, 34% of girls are married before the age of 18, and 5% before the age of 15.

    UNICEF Child Marriage Database (2020)

  • 18

    In Zimbabwe the legal age of marriage is 18 without exceptions.

  • 2030

    Zimbabwe has committed to eliminate child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals. During its Voluntary National Review at the 2017 High Level Political Forum, the government reaffirmed commitment to this target.

    Girls Not Brides & Zimbabwe Voluntary National Review (2017)

CAMFED Zimbabwe’s position as Chair of the Gender and Disability Committee under the National Education Coalition enables us to advocate for policies to promote equitable, quality education and against child marriage.

Find out more about our work in Zimbabwe

Ghana

  • 27%

    Nationally, 27% of girls are married before their 18th birthday, and in northern Ghana, rates can be as high as 40%.

    UNICEF (2016)

  • 18

    The legal age of marriage in Ghana is 18 without exceptions.

  • 2030

    Ghana has committed to eliminate child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals.

    Girls Not Brides

CAMFED Ghana collaborates with the government to ensure that young women not only stay in school and out of child marriage, but see a pathway to independence and business leadership. 

We signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ghana Enterprises Agency to support training for young women in establishing businesses. In collaboration with the Government’s Guidance and Counselling Unit, CAMFED Ghana developed the Ministry of Education’s five-year Guidance and Counselling Strategic Plan, Teacher Mentor Training Manual and Civic Education Handbook.

Find out more about our work in Ghana

Find out more about our work to end child marriage

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NewsGlobal

BBC highlights CAMFED’s work to end child marriage through girls’ education

“I remember wearing a torn dress to primary school, having no shoes and not enough to eat. I felt guilty when my parents sold maize to buy me school supplies and I used to wash dishes for the teacher just to get hold of a pencil.” – Angeline Murimirwa

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NewsGlobal

5 reasons why child marriage affects us all

The ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) agenda serves to create progress that will improve lives across the world. But every year, 15 million girls are locked away from a better life. Child marriage is standing in the way of progress towards many of the 2030 Global Goals. 

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NewsGlobal

Unlocking the power to lead a better world

“We follow up if children drop out of school, and work to keep girls learning and out of child marriage. As a Learner Guide I am a motivator, a role model to pupils in schools, and also in my wider community.” – Dyness, Learner Guide in Zambia

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Girls’ exclusion from education is solvable

“We were proactive in leveraging the community support system that we have built over the years, including Teacher Mentors and CAMFED Association members who really took the lead to make contact with vulnerable students… The achievement of a 100% return rate is a result of comprehensive interventions to help girls go back to school.” – Lydia Wilbard, CAMFED Tanzania

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NewsGlobal

Women’s leadership for girls’ education: Celebrating IWD 2021

“There’s this sisterhood network – the CAMFED Association – where you have so many young women who believe in what you believe in – it’s like a big team! My success story has been being a part of that family – people respect us in our community because they see us working toward some good.” – Esther Rockson, CAMFED Association Tanzania

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NewsGlobal

Driving action against child marriage and early pregnancy

“It gladdens our hearts to have our partners in our midst. You’ve been with us all year and we are more than grateful that you could join us. We also look forward to hearing from you all the work that you are doing to contribute to the fight against teenage pregnancies and child marriage.” – Ruka Yaro-De Liman, CAMFED Association Ghana

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