The difference in the age to consent to sex, which is 16, and the age of marriage which is 18, is a major challenge to the fight against child marriage. This is because under the country’s laws, it is not a crime for a child who is 16 years to consent to sex even though at that age, the child cannot marry until she is 18.
The Ghana NGO Coalition on the Rights of the Child (GNCRC) has, therefore, called on stakeholders to unite with concerted efforts to urge the government to review the law to ensure that both the age to consent to sex and the age of marriage are pegged at 18.
“We might not be able to do anything when we rely solely on the government. We need all traditional leaders, religious leaders, law enforcement agencies and other bodies to come on board to help fight the cause,” the coordinator for GNCRC, Mr Barima Akwasi Amankwah, explained.
He said, “It is a major challenge in the fight against child marriage because men who sleep with and impregnate girls aged 16 and above with their consent cannot be held responsible and the girls end up with unwanted pregnancies, with no husband.”
Mr Amankwah made the call at a panel discussion on Early Child Marriage held in Accra last Friday (November 9) by Zonta Club of Accra II.
Zonta International is a global organisation of professionals that empowers women worldwide through service and advocacy.
This was part of the celebration of the launch of the organisation on November 8, 1919.
Ghana ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), the key international law that provides for the welfare of children in 1990 and enacted a progressive legislation, the Children’s Act 1998, Act 560 to guarantee basic rights of children and to protect them from any kind of abuse and exploitation.
Under the country’s 1992 Constitution and the Children’s Act, a child is a person below the age of 18. The basic rights of the child are guaranteed in a number of elaborate provisions under these laws.
One of such provision is the right of the child to refuse betrothal and marriage.
Despite this provision, the situation of child marriage, according to Mr Amankwaah, was very worrying as there was a national prevalence child marriage rate of about 27.1 per cent with the Northern Region having the highest rate of about 34.1 per cent.
He maintained that pegging the age to consent to sex and the age of marriage at 18 years was a positive step towards the fight against child marriage.
He, however, acknowledged that other factors such as ignorance on the part of girls, poverty, weak extended family system and weakness in enforcing the laws also contributed to the problem.
For her part, the Vice-President of the Zonta Club Accra II, Ms Aba Amissah Quainoo said the media had positive roles to play in addressing the problem and underscored the need for the media to avoid programmes that would negatively impact the lives of children, especially girls.