“For us to overcome child marriage, we need to build a movement: a local movement, a national movement, a movement across Africa where civil society can work in partnership to address child marriage, together with our governments.”

Graça Machel

From November 6 – 7, 2012, Khalidou Sy, the National Coordinator of Tostan Senegal, traveled to Johannesburg, South Africa to participate in a global meeting of over 90 civil society organizations from 20 countries in Africa on child marriage organized by Girls Not Brides .

Girls Not Brides is a partnership of over 200 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from around the world dedicated to ending child marriage. These highly diverse organizations work at the grassroots, local, national, and global levels to raise awareness about the rights of girls, support victims of child marriage and mobilize support among donors and governments to help end the practice.

In Senegal, approximately 40 per cent of women aged 25 to 49 have been married before the age of 18, and 16 per cent have been married before the age of 15 (DHS-MICS survey 2010 – 2011). Child/forced marriage drastically reduces girls’ future opportunities – often forcing them to abandon their education early and leads to negative health consequences from giving birth at a young age.

At the global meeting, Khalidou Sy shared strategies used by Tostan and its partner communities to promote the abandonment of child/forced marriage through the Community Empowerment Program (CEP). Tostan spreads knowledge at the grassroots level about girls’ rights to education and opportunity, the right to marry who they want and the dangerous health risks of early pregnancies. This information is shared with communities through CEP classes, social mobilization activities, and radio programs in local languages in each of the eight countries where Tostan operates. This new information and dynamic learning environment mobilizes families and communities to choose to abandon the practice, highlighted especially during public declarations for the abandonment of harmful practices. Since 1997, 5002 communities have declared an end to child/forced marriage in Senegal along with other harmful practices.

The two-day meeting in Johannesburg brought together hundreds of social leaders from around Africa and beyond to share their strategies and build connections for the promoting the abandonment of child marriage. The Girls Not Brides  partnership, including Tostan and many other organizations, will continue to build momentum among communities, civil society, governments and international organizations to engage to end child marriage by 2030.

*Photographs courtesy of Girls Not Brides