Photo Credit: Africa Health Organisation

Marriage is a legally sanctioned contract between a man and a woman. Entering into a marriage contract changes both parties' legal status, giving the husband and wife new rights and obligations. Public policy is firmly in favour of marriage based on the belief that it preserves the family unit.

In Sierra Leone, the Civil Marriage Act, Cap 97 of 1910, as amended section 7 governs marriages under statutory law. Still, it considers the case where one of the spouses' law is customary law. In this case, the legal age for marriage is 18; otherwise, it's 21. Statistics have shown that 30% of girls in Sierra Leone are married before 18, and 13% are married before 15. 7% of boys in sierra leone are married before the age of 18, making Sierra Leone one of the top 20 countries with the highest prevalence of child marriage among young boys. This statistic shows that most young people entered unions that are not registered as a formal marriage.

Child marriage is a human right violation that threatens girls lives and health. Child brides may become pregnant before their bodies are ready. They are highly vulnerable to abuse, which will also stop them from furthering their education, limiting their future. Many young girls are now rushing into this "thing called marriage" leaving their future behind, destroying their goals and aspirations. It is useful for some as they join in holy matrimony with the love of their lives and their soul partner. Still, on the other hand, many young people are suffering or dying in silence due to early marriage. It is a harmful practice that denies girls' rights to make vital decisions about their sexual health and well-being. It forces them out of education and into a life with low prospects and an increased risk of violence, abuse, ill health, or early death. This global problem cuts across many countries, cultures, religions and ethnicities.

Early pregnancy is one of the dangerous consequences of this harmful practice. It increases the vulnerability of sexually transmitted disease. Education is essential for the girl child. It gives them many opportunities in life, allowing them to play an active role in society and break the cycle of poverty. But this cannot be achieved when a girl child is given away in early marriage. Parents need to wake up, especially mothers, to fight for their children's right.

Our mothers have a significant role to play in ending child marriage. A young girl is currently suffering from the predicaments of child marriage. Her mother's decision to marry her off at an early age was because the man is rich. She enjoyed her first year of marriage; it seems because her mother was alive. Just after her mother's death, the man revealed his ugly side. She is currently almost paralysed with three children and nobody to help her. Still, suppose she receives the help to focus and continue with her education. In that case, she will have the tools not to allow any man to treat her like a piece of rag. Marriage is a blessing and honourable when you patiently wait for it.

God's time and the right partner is a fundamental issue to consider in marriage. Most young people are carried away by money, beauty, fame, wealth, name, good looks, to name a few, forgetting the journey that marriage holds ahead. As the saying goes "not all that glitters is gold". Hence, you need to understand your partner and know that your values align before saying "I DO", which is a challenge when your parents decide for you.

My mum used to tell me about the procedures in marriage back then. I Realised from those stories, unions in the olden days' were way better than today'. They yielded better fruits as a background check on both sides was a major priority before giving their consent. Today, the minute a man says "I will you marry you" with no time-wasting, the woman responds "yes" without their parent's consent or a background check.

Marriage is supposed to be a life journey. Therefore, we must carefully choose our partner to avoid the problems associated with a bad marriage, which may lead to divorce, early death, or mental health problems. But instead, enjoy a lasting marriage and a happy home with God at the centre.

The Government and its many partners should empower girls with education, information, skills training and support. Economic support and incentives for young girls and their family (like free education) and sensitisation of parents and community members about the dangers of early and arranged marriages are vital to ending early child marriage for the next generation.

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