Mozambique has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world, affecting almost one in every two girls, and has the second highest rate in the eastern and southern African sub-region. Some 48 per cent of women in Mozambique aged 20–24 were first married or in a union before the age of 18, and 14 per cent before the age of 15 (DHS, 2011).
Child marriage endangers girls. Child brides experience a higher incidence of domestic violence, marital abuse (including physical, sexual or psychological abuse) and abandonment.
UNICEF Mozambique work in child marriage
Ending violence against children and child marriage is a priority for UNICEF child protection programme in Mozambique. There is a huge need to raise awareness in communities about the prevalence of abuse and violence as well as to empower community members, families and children to denounce and address such violations. Child protection systems at all levels, in communities and nationally, will be supported to provide an effective response.
A main area of support is the multi-sectoral collaboration between government and civil society to prevent and address violence against children, child marriage and other harmful practices.
Addressing violence against children and transforming social norms and practices that are potentially harmful for children requires engagement and collaboration of a wide range of diverse actors, including line ministries, justice system actors, civil society, traditional and religious leaders, media, youth and adolescents. UNICEF will support establishment and/or strengthening of multi-sectoral coordination mechanisms at the national level and in focus provinces to implement the National Strategy to Prevent and Eliminate Child Marriage and
effectively respond to violence against children.
Child marriage ends dreams and threatens health
Lavela Manuela did not intend to get pregnant nor marry while she was still at school, but she continued to study – at least at first – before her pregnancy began to show. Then, she stopped attending classes until she had a visit from the president of the school council, Paulinho Macalia, who persuaded her to return to school.
Although 17, Lavela was only in Grade 6 and still had one more year left of primary school. She had only started school at the age of 10, when she went to live with her aunt. Her mother, who has a chronic illness, never sent her to school.
Being six months pregnant, Lavela concedes she was apprehensive to be back in the classroom. “I thought the other children would tease me. Yet I wanted to study as my dream is to be a teacher. I like to play with children,” she says, smiling. It is the only time she smiles during the interview, and the smile vanishes as quick as it came.
Lavela explains that once she moved out of her aunt’s home last year to live with her husband, Celestinho, 23, she dropped out of school never to return, despite the efforts of the local school council.
And she lost her baby. Lavela had gone into labour prematurely. As the nearest health centre is 12 kilometres away and the family had no transport, they called a traditional midwife to deliver the baby at home. Lavela never attended any antenatal clinics and did not seek medical advice after losing her baby. “I didn’t know about that,” says Lavela simply.
Her days are now spent farming and carrying out heavy household chores, such as fetching wood and water in her remote rural village in Napai, some 64 kilometres from the provincial capital, Nampula.
Lavela’s story is not unusual. The northern province of Nampula has some of the highest child marriage rates, with many girls marrying even earlier than Lavela at the onset of puberty, soon after traditional initiation rites have been performed. Nationally, according to the 2011 Demographic Health Survey (DHS), almost half (48 per cent) of women aged 20– 24 reported that they were married before the age of 18.
“Child marriage (formal and informal unions) is a fundamental violation of human rights,” says Edina Kozma, UNICEF Child Protection Specialist. “Often it means denying children the right to education, to play and just to be children. Early pregnancy can also lead to serious health problems or even result in the death of infants and/or mothers.”
Kozma explains that supporting the government’s efforts to end child marriage is, therefore, one of UNICEF’s top priorities. “We’re working at all levels with the government and community leaders, including religious leaders, to change people’s perceptions and behaviour. This includes empowering girls and women economically and also creating conditions that allow them to have a say in the critical decisions that affect their lives.”
Macalia, the president of the school council who had initially convinced Lavela to return to school, concedes that keeping girls in education is a challenge, especially if they get pregnant. “I told her (Lavela) she must continue with her studies, and I talked to others to motivate her.”
Lavela also had support from her aunt, Delfina Paissa. “I put her in school as I had hoped she could get a job later.” Yet, Paissa had also influenced Lavela to marry as she said “the man responsible for the pregnancy needed to take responsibility.”
At Lavela’s school, although gender parity exists in the first grades, the gender gap widens by Grade 7. In 2017, for example, in Grade 1, there were 253 boys compared to 273 girls, yet in Grade 7, there were 18 boys and only 5 girls.
Eugenia Paulo, a teacher at the school, says she often talks with female students, encouraging them not to marry before they finish their studies. But, she continues, many factors work against them. Paulo points out that even those who want to finish primary school and continue to secondary school are often unable as there is no secondary school nearby, and many children do not have relatives or people with whom they can stay and their parents cannot afford alternative accommodation. “Parents also put pressure on their children and say it’s not worth them continuing their studies as they will not find a job at the end.”
Cardoso Armando, from the local government department, Social Action, highlights the need to adapt initiation rites. “The girls learn during the rites ceremony that after their first menses they are ready for a sexual relationship. These messages encourage them to experiment, they get pregnant and then they are forced to marry.”
As far as Lavela is concerned, she seems to have accepted that her marriage means her youth is over. Although Lavela says she would like to have an opportunity to study again, she is not hopeful. Nor is her husband, Celestinho, 23, who had to drop out of school at the age of 12 when his parents moved. He explains that he would have had to trek four hours to and from school each day. Asked whether he thinks it would be possible for either him or Lavela to study again, he thinks for a moment, then says softly, “I don't think we have the right conditions at home to return to school.”
Child brides are more likely to come from a poor family and once married, are more likely to continue living in poverty.
Key messages on child marriage
Child marriage exposes girls to various abuses and violence
Child marriage exposes girls to serious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and obstetric fistula, also increases maternal and infant mortality
Child marriage drops girls out of school affecting their education and future