Young activists accelerate change in Senegal

In Senegal, girls are at the heart of change to end harmful practices, such as child marriage and female genital mutilation.

Lalaina F. Andriamasinoro
UNICEF Senegal/2022/Vincent Tremeau
17 June 2022

KOLDA (Senegal), June 17, 2022 –  As we celebrate the Day of the African Child, young girls in Senegal are at the heart of change to challenge norms and end harmful cultural practices, such as child marriage and female genital mutilation.

Adama Diallo has just turned 18. A student in the final year of high school in Dabo, in the Kolda region, southern Senegal, Adama is a young educator, president of the Dabo girls' club, coordinator of the Support Project for the National Strategy for Equity and Gender Equality in her municipality and member of the global consortium to fight against female genital mutilation (FGM).

UNICEF Senegal/2022/Vincent Tremeau

"Child marriage or female genital mutilation are persistent in our region. It is for this reason that I am personally committed to fighting against these practices," she said.

In Senegal, nearly 2 million girls and women have undergone female genital mutilation. The most severe form of FGM, in which the vaginal opening is sewn closed, is found in many regions and is most common in Kolda. Among girls under 15, 16% have undergone mutilation.

UNICEF Senegal/2022/Vincent Tremeau

“FGM can lead to serious health complications and even death. Immediate risks include haemorrhage, shock, infection, urine retention and severe pain.

“Girls subjected to FGM are also at increased risk of becoming child brides and dropping out of school, threatening their ability to build a better future for themselves and their communities” says Adama, as she leads a group discussion with young girls and boys in the village of Kodienguina.

The Government finalized with UNICEF-UNFPA joint support, its National Strategy on FGM - a key milestone which engages different sectors and stakeholders.

For the first time, and thanks to UNICEF and UNFPA joint advocacy, national authorities officially engaged a large media campaign for FGM abandonment called #EndFGM (#garderentière), echoing community-based awareness-raising activities to end FGM.

In 2021, more than 145,000 children, youths, and parents engaged in social dialogue around child protection against violence and harmful practices and built their capacities to better prevent and respond to risks.

UNICEF Senegal/2022/Vincent Tremeau

"Apart from issues related to female genital mutilation, we also address other topics such as gender-based violence, early pregnancy and child marriage," she continues.

"We conduct educational talks and are sometimes called upon to carry out mediation actions to prevent child marriage. We meet parents to convince them not to marry off their children."

In the village of Kodienguina, girls know about child marriage. Most are afraid of it. Some have no choice to decide.

UNICEF Senegal/2022/Vincent Tremeau

"When a girl is promised in marriage, we directly engage in discussion with actors at the village level, including community leaders and parents. We explain the negative consequences of marriage on children"

"Child marriage robs girls of their childhood and threatens their lives and health. Girls who marry before 18 are more likely to experience domestic violence and less likely to remain in school.

"Child brides often become pregnant during adolescence, when the risk of complications during pregnancy and childbirth increases – for themselves and their infants. The practice can also isolate girls from family and friends and exclude them from participating in their communities, taking a heavy toll on their well-being" explains Adama in front of parents and community leaders of the village of Kodienguina.

In Senegal, according to the latest statistics, more than 3 out of 10 women aged 20 to 24 were married before the age of 18. Ending child marriage can preserve a girl’s childhood, promote her right to an education, reduce her exposure to violence and abuse, and contribute to breaking cycles of poverty that are passed down from one generation to the next.

Putting an end to child marriage is a focus of UNICEF’s work in Senegal. Working with communities, families, authorities and partners, UNICEF helps identify and address the social norms and economic and structural factors that contribute to the persistence of child marriage.

"My dream would be to see all the girls of Dabo, Kolda and Senegal fully enjoy their rights. That their childhood is not cut short either by marriage or by excision," she concludes.

UNICEF Senegal/2022/Vincent Tremeau

This year’s commemoration of the international Day of the African Child on 16 June is themed: “Eliminating Harmful Practices Affecting Children: Progress on Policy and Practice since 2013.”

Data shows that at continental level, Africa continues to lag in progress towards meeting the targets of the Sustainable Development Goal 5.3 to eliminate all harmful practices by 2030.

Africa is home to 130 million child brides, both girls under the age of 18 who have already married and adult women who were married as children. If progress is not accelerated, an additional 45 million girls in sub-Saharan Africa will become child brides in the next decade.

Today, UNICEF launched continental and regional reports on child marriage and female genital mutilation in Africa. UNICEF calls on African Union member states to accelerate efforts and to increase domestic resources to end child marriage and female genital mutilation.