ECOWAS says it is set to eliminate child marriage in the region through the validation and implementation of its reviewed Child Policy and Plan of Action.
Dr Siga Jagne, the bloc’s commissioner for Social Affairs and Gender, said this at an experts’ validation meeting on the ECOWAS Child Policy in Abuja, on Monday.
Jagne said the previous policy, which was based on international frameworks, was approved by the Heads of State in 2008 and covered the period of 2009 to 2013.
The commissioner said the increasing rate of child marriage in West Africa was unacceptable with the sub region accounting for the highest in Africa and the second highest in the world.
“Indeed, six of the 15 ECOWAS countries; Niger: 76 per cent, Mali: 55 per cent, Burkina Faso: 52 per cent, Guinea: 51 per cent, Nigeria: 43 per cent, Sierra Leone 39 per cent, are among the twenty countries with the highest rates of child marriage in the world.
“Two ECOWAS countries, Nigeria and Niger, rank among the 20 countries with the largest absolute number of child marriages in the world.”
“While ECOWAS Member States continue to implement measures to end child marriage, rates remain very high.
“This also is in spite of the work done at the level of the African Union and the launch of the Campaign in 2014; as well as the commitment of 11 West African Countries to end Early Child Marriage.”
She explained that the review would include the multidimensional issues affecting the rights of the child in West Africa with a focus on the Roadmap on Prevention and Response to Child Marriage
“Thus, the ECOWAS Commission, will present to you for validation, the Child Policy and Strategic Plan of Action and a Roadmap on Prevention and Response to Child Marriage, aimed at charting a clear course for the Region in dealing with this issue in the coming years.”
The commissioner urged representatives of member states to scrutinise the texts and consider modalities for implementation at the national and regional levels.
Mr Hussaini Abdu, Country Director, PLAN International, an NGO, said his organisation was working with governments, religious and traditional leaders across West Africa to also implement a global programme against child marriage in the region.
“What we are doing across West Africa is what we call 18+; which is no child should be married until she is 18 and above.
“Our work is to see how we can work with governments to set up policies and frameworks that will support the process of delegalising child marriage, working with traditional leaders of our different communities.
“We are also working with religious leaders who can also help in better interpretation of religious doctrines and work with the girls themselves, from their primary through secondary schools and get them to understand their societies,’’ Abdu said.
He also urged member states to collaborate with the organisation to facilitate its efforts in ending early and forced child marriage.
Mrs Denise Ulwor, representative of UNICEF, said the review of the ECOWAS Child Policy would be an opportunity to scale-up action on the regional child rights agenda.
Ulwor said the successful implementation in the Plan of Action would contribute to efforts to respond effectively to the challenges children faced in different contexts.
“It is refreshing to see an updated Child Policy with clear and practical framework to improve access to rights and protection for every child in West Africa.
“We in UNICEF are particularly pleased to have provided financial and technical support to see the draft Policy and Plan of Action to fruition.
“We recognise the Child Policy as the main tool supplementing the ECOWAS mandate on child rights,’’ she noted.
Mr David Dorkenno, Specialist in Workers Activities, International Labour Organisation (ILO) expressed optimism that the effective implementation of the ECOWAS Child Policy would ensure every child in the region enjoyed their developmental rights.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the review of the ECOWAS Child Policy began in 2016.
The experts would assess the document before it is presented to the ECOWAS Ministers for adoption.
The reviewed ECOWAS Child Policy and Strategic Plan of Action would cover the period of 2019 to 2023.