Mozambique, which has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world, announced a national plan on Monday to put an end to the institution.
Though the African nation has seen some notable declines in child marriage -- a practice that comes with a slew of health and developmental risks -- it still affects nearly one in two girls there, according to UNICEF. Those figures could be eliminated altogether though, now that a band of government officials, nonprofits and donors have launched a multi-pronged national plan to end child marriage.
In 2011, 48 percent of women between the ages of 20 to 24 were married before they turned 18, according to UNICEF. That was down from 56.6 percent in 1997. But those figures belie the actual number of girls who are married.
Population growth has meant that the actual number of married girls has increased, Girls Not Brides, a nonprofit involved in the national plan, said in a press release.
The eight-pillared strategy, which was spearheaded in part by the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Affairs, will address health and education issues.
The campaign will involve reforming the legal framework, developing a social mobilization campaign, improving girls’ access to education, and sexual and reproductive health services, according to Girls Not Brides.
But advocates say the work is far from over, considering that it will require extensive collaboration, donations and on-the-ground programs.
“We would be mistaken to celebrate too soon,” Girls Not Brides said in a statement. “No real change comes from a piece of paper alone and the coming months will determine the fate of the national strategy, be it gathering dust on a shelf somewhere, or transforming girls’ lives across the country.”
Mozambique has made declarations in the past about ending the practice that didn’t have everlasting results.
Child marriage is officially illegal in Mozambique, but it is not punishable by law and the civil legislation on the issue is weak. The country was also involved in a charter adopted by the African Union, which denounced child marriage. And in 2014, first lady Maria da Luz Guebuza spoke out at a rally urging parents to not marry off their daughters.
Part of the problem, advocates say, is that the institution is so embedded in society that many girls aren’t opposed to it. The other issue is that many struggling parents are motivated by the “bride price,” the amount of money they’ll get in return from marrying off their daughters, HuffPost Impact executive editor Jessica Prois noted while reporting from Mozambique in 2014.
To ensure that the plan is effective, Girls Not Brides is calling on donors and international agencies to lend technical and financial support and is looking to heavily involve the girls and communities that are affected by child marriage.
“You can change attitudes,” Mariana Muzzi, a child protection specialist with UNICEF Mozambique, told HuffPost in 2014. “You’re not going to immediately solve the economic problems, but [...] you can change the attitude and say, ‘Yes, I think my girl is worth it and I want her to become a nurse or a doctor.’ It can be done.”