Marriage before the age of 18 is a form of sexual violence that carries severe penalties in Congolese law because it exposes and weakens children’s health and compromises the their education, development and dignity.
In order to understand this year’s topic, on 10th June we participated, along with children from child organisations in Goma, our team and some journalists, in a briefing session that was organised by the Gender, Family and Child provincial division. We listened carefully to the presentation that was given by Mrs Inah Kaloga’s from UNICEF’s Protection section who gave us an in-depth explanation of child marriage. We formed working groups in order to reflect on its causes and consequences as well as other related topics.
As a way to encourage the whole of Goma’s population do fight against premature marriages, we organised a big concert on 16th June during which Back-to-school Ambassador artists performed songs against child marriage; the concert attracted the participation of a considerable amount of people. I was the main animator of the concert and was assisted by Don-Luis, a freestyle rapper from Goma.
Not only were there musicians who sang songs, children were also present to answer the questions I asked about their rights and then, they were the ones sending out messages to prevent child marriages. I gave the floor to a deaf boy who, despite not hearing what we were saying, delivered a message that proved to be extremely relevant throughout the celebration: “We deaf children, just like those who can hear, must be equal. We are also against child marriage, for a better future for our country.”
We also watched a dance show performed by about twenty children from the Vijana Up ! project who mentored by dancers from the Rhina Crew. They were happy to be with us and are already taking a stand against child marriage by our side. One of the children said to me: “I’m really happy I danced today and I pledge to promote the fight against child marriage through dancing.”
Premature marriage has various consequences such as premature pregnancies, weakened health, and poverty.
But children aren’t the only ones who suffer from these effects; it also implies that the next generation will be affected. When married too early, the children are out of school and their own children will have even less opportunities to start their own education. Daughters of illiterate parents run a particularly higher risk of leaving school and marrying young, thus perpetuating the vicious cycle.
We believe that UNICEF is capable of assisting the Congolese Government, who has already ratified several documents that protect children and adopted its own Child Protection law, in continuing to punish people who encourage child marriage.
For millions of children, the age of puberty can be the first step towards forced marriage. All too often, they are isolated from their friends and prepare to become parents when they are still children themselves.
During the big concert on 16th June, my friend Melissa Kasoki sang a song called “C’est pas l’âge” (“It’s not the right age”) to explain to us that children who are coerced into marriage are often denied the opportunity of fully developing their potential and escaping poverty by focusing on their studies.
“The age of puberty is not the right age to marry children, but rather a time at which children should focus on their studies to become men and women who will be useful to themselves, and to society.”
It was a successful show from beginning to end and we already know that all those who were present have committed to fighting child marriage in their area.
Getting rid of this evil practice is a great source of hope for a brighter future for children.
In the name of all the young reporters of Goma, I call out to all those who are able to act against child marriage, such as NGOs, parents, teachers, and children ourselves, to unite so that we can put an end to premature marriages in order to secure a full and harmonious development for children.
Photo: UNICEF RDC 2015 Justin Kasereka
Translated from French by Eleanor Hac
Laetitia a 14 ans et elle est enfant reporter de la ville de Goma ainsi que présidente de la commission Education Jeux Culture et Loisirs du Parlement d'enfants. Défendre les droits de ses semblables est l'une de ses plus grandes passions. Plus tard, Laetitia aimerait devenir une grande journaliste sans s'écarter du domaine de la défense des droits des enfants pour changer le monde. Son credo: « L'enfance congolaise est une arme de construction massive »
Laetitia is 14 and a young reporter from Goma, as well as Chair of the Committee for Education, Games, Culture and Entertainment in the Children's Parliament. Defending the rights of her peers is one of her greatest passions. When she is older, Laetitia would like to become a great journalist, maintaining her dedication to the defense of children's rights to change the world. Her credo: "Congolese children are a weapon of mass construction."