2 March 2017

Sierra Leone: AU Strategizes How to End Child Marriage

Department of Social Affairs of the African Union (AU) Commission in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, is strategizing a way to end child marriage in West and Central Africa.

In a press release issued last Friday,the AU says it will be organizing a three-day regional capacity building workshop on "Increased Advocacy to Ending Child Marriage through Engagement of the Media in West and Central African Stream". The workshop started onMonday 27th February and will ended on Wednesday 1st March, 2017, at the La Palm Beach Hotel in Accra, Ghana.

According to the release, the objectives of the workshop were to address the impact of child marriage and importance of objective and gender sensitive coverage by the media, taking into account cultural sensitivities on child marriage with the intent of promoting change, enhance the capacity of participants to engage and work with other stakeholders in addressing the harmful practices of child marriage.

"The training would also enhance the capacity of the media to better analyze and interpret data on child marriage for advocacy purpose as well as enhance consistent positioning of child marriage in the media, public and public discourse. It would also help to disseminate relevance of the references to international standards on non-discrimination and issues pertaining to women's participation in the media as well as developing a set of actions to enhance a renewed and consistent positioning of the issue at regional and country levels," the release stated.

"The Commission enlightens that increasingly, emphasis is being placed on the need to focus attention on the different factors that drive the practice of child marriage thereby demystifying the numerous positions being propagated as reasons why the practice must persist," it went on.

The release also stated that child marriage is a complex issue that is driven by a number of factors in different societies, citing that gender inequality due to entrenched societal differentiation between males and females, social and economic status, class, ethnicity, caste, sexuality, religion, traditional norms, HIV status and disability are among some major factors.

"Child marriage is a human rights violation and has been included in a number of legal instruments at the continental and international levels. The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) defines a child as a person under the age of 17," the release noted, adding that the media can be viewed as both complaint and agents of change in the subordination of women and advocating against these harmful traditional practices respectively.

The release said practices such as child marriage are often perceived as customary and considered to occur within traditional and religious contexts, therefore, the role of the media in galvanizing the needed conversation and engendering the change that needs to happen, cannot be overemphasized.

"Though equipped with the knowledge and skills to carryout investigative reporting and considering the array of media outlets on the continent, media reports on child marriage often lacks depth and do not take into consideration, the different sensitivities of the issue," the release stated.

It added that in certain instances, there was a mistrust between the media and child rights advocates, with both sides not understanding each other's needs, expectations and often finding it hard to work together constructively.

The release stated that the media is undoubtedly the conduits for delivering information to the society by both traditional and new media platforms, and therefore ending the harmful practice of child marriage which requires engaging the media for increased advocacy on the factors fueling the practice.

"The overall objective of the workshop is to enhance the capacity of the media to better investigate and report on child marriage in Africa with a focus on addressing the root causes and the different facets of the issue and challenging all stakeholders towards ending this practice," the release stated.

The release stated that this workshop will link the role of the media as key information transmitters in delivering the key tenets of the African Union campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa, the AU's Agenda 2063 and Sustainable Development Goals.

The workshop targets representatives of major media outlets in Africa in which Sierra Leone is a participant funded by UNFPA, focused on reporting on development issues and a variety of issues around social behavioral change.

Participants of the workshop are key media practitioners with both traditional and new media platforms, national based Communication and Advocacy Officers of UN Agencies, INGOs and CSOs.

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