Millions of girls as young as 14 across climate change-ravaged Africa forced to be child brides
Girls are forcibly placed with husbands they don’t love because their despairing fathers and mothers can no longer support them
Original post on Mirror
Millions of girls across Africa are facing a terrible choice brought on by severe climate change – be a child bride or die. Girls as young as 14 are forcibly placed with husbands they don’t love because their despairing fathers and mothers can no longer support them. Soaring temperatures, failing crops, droughts, floods, and scarce fish are all contributing to parents being increasingly unable to look after their kids. Marrying girls off early – so reducing the number of mouths they have to feed and getting a valuable cash dowry – is often the only option for survival.
Figures from Unicef and the World Bank show that of 41 million girls in the ten worst affected countries in Africa, 22 million will marry below the age of 18 – despite growing awareness and new laws aimed at banning the practice.
A Sunday People investigation went to Mozambique and neighbouring Malawi in the continent’s south-east. Malawi youth counselling expert Mac Bain Mkandawire confirmed: “I would say up to 40 per cent of child marriages in this country are due to floods and droughts caused by climate change.” In Mozambique, where one in seven girls is a wife by 15, we heard the harrowing story of Theresa Antonio. She was married off by her father, only for her husband to abandon her with two tiny children. As she gazed out over a parched, featureless landscape Theresa, now 22 and living back at home with daughter Atija, three, and year-old son David, recalled: “For a long time, the rains came when we expected them. Now the weather has changed. The rain doesn’t come as often as it used to.
“We didn’t have enough food, not even enough clothes. So my only option seemed to be marriage. “I was seeing my married friends had enough to eat and enough clothes. And I was suffering. One day I was eating, one day I wasn’t.” Her dad Januario had found himself unable to feed his family as crops and fishing catches dwindled.
So when 18-year-old Amiro Age came to his house in the town of Moma asking to marry Theresa, he reluctantly agreed. Januario said: “I didn’t want my daughter to get married. I wanted her to finish her studies and get a diploma with my support but it was impossible. “There’s a link. These extreme events do not affect only Moma. I see the weather changing. Even if you are a responsible guy you are struggling.” Amiro, a fisherman, had promised to support Theresa. But while she was pregnant with David he left to seek work in a distant city and never came back.
Another distressing story emerged in Malawi, where we learned how a horrendous family tragedy led to Rute Fumulani becoming a child bride. The average annual temperature in the country has risen by a damaging one degree in a decade.
Rute was 14 when a flood hit the Nsanje district, where she lived with her parents, in 2015. Both adults were swept away and Rute was left in a camp for survivors. She said: “Others gave me leftovers but I didn’t even have a plate or a spoon to eat with. Life was very difficult.” After four days she met an 18-year old named Fumulani, who was looking after his young brother and sister. The pair agreed marriage was best for all of them.
Rute, who once dreamed of becoming a nurse, had their son Thokozani a little over a year ago. Now the young family live in a two-room hut with Fumulani’s brother Eliya, nine, and Amines, five – and eat only three days a week.
Rute, who blamed the climate change on “rampant” tree-felling, said: “Parents are struggling due to extreme weather. They are just not harvesting enough.” Time and again, in villages and towns, we heard similar stories about barren fields, dried-up rivers and fishless seas.
Malawi made it illegal to marry under 18 in 2015 but 1.5 million girls are at risk, according to Mac Bain Mkandawire. The Youth Net and Counselling director said: “I want to highlight that in areas devastated by floods and drought a lot of children are being married off because their families are numerous.”
Unicef says the number of child brides worldwide could more than double to 310 million by 2050.