Around 5 million children in the central Sahel face a growing humanitarian crisis, according to a new report
Africa’s semi-arid Sahel region, which lies between the Sahara desert and the humid savannahs of sub-Saharan Africa, has the highest rate of child marriage in the world, according to a new report by non-profit ‘Save the Children’.
Around five million children across Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger in the central Sahel region of west Africa face a growing humanitarian crisis that could result in more such marriages, the report has said.
The crisis is driven by protracted conflict, climate-related drought, famine and the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, according to the report.
The Sahel, which stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea, consists of 10 countries — Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan and Eritrea.
The rate of child marriage in the report was calculated based on the number of women aged 20-24 years, who were married before the age of 18.
At least 10 million more girls are at a risk of being forced into marriage due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an analysis by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef) released in March this year.
Some 34 per cent of girls in Africa are married before they reach the age of 18, according to the Unicef.
The national rate of child marriage in Nigeria, Africa’s most populated country and located partially in the Sahel, is 43.4 per cent, according to Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey 2018.
The rate is higher among girls living in rural areas, compared to girls in urban areas.
The ‘Save the Children’ report also noted that intersecting drivers, such as poverty and protection risks, also resulted in refugee girls from West Asia and North Africa experiencing higher and increasing child marriage rates than girls from host communities.
The report found that school closures appeared to have had a direct impact on the increasing rates and risks of child marriage in the Dominican Republic, Egypt, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Niger and Somalia.
COVID-19 pandemic conditions had enabled an increase in female genital mutilation / cutting (FGM/C) in some places, according to the report. In countries like Somalia, families took advantage of school closures to carry out FGM/C so that girls had time to recover, without missing school or their absence being noticed.
‘Save the Children’ and the European Union have launched a landmark programme in response to the Sahel crises. The programme trains teachers in child rights, child safeguarding and how to deliver psychosocial first aid and mental health support.
Community child protection committees have been set up under the programme. These link up to the schools so children in need of case management can be referred. The programme also provides school supplies and runs catch-up lessons.
The report, titled Global Girlhood Report 2021: Girls’ Rights in Crisis, released October 10, 2021.
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