World Vision International, Ghana, (WVIG) a non-Governmental Organisation, has urged the Government to increase the legal age of consensual sex from 16 to 18 to combat the menace of child marriage.

The NGO is thus advocating for the immediate amendment of the Criminal Offences Act 1960 (Act 29 Section 14 (a)) which allows children to have consensual sex at 16 to be consistent with the legal marriage age of 18.

The call was made at a media briefing on the Organisation’s five year global campaign dubbed: “End Child Marriage Now: It takes us all”.   It aims at contributing to a 50 per cent reduction of child marriage in Ghana by 2021. The Ghana Demographic Health Survey 2014 Report reveals that one in four women marry before 18 years, representing 27 per cent. Out of this, seven per cent are married by 15 years.

But in the Northern Region, the rate is about 39 per cent. Child marriage in rural areas is about 36 per cent, while in the urban areas where it stands at 19 per cent. WVIG said though the country had recorded a considerable reduction in the rates of child marriage from 31.5 per cent in 2008 to 27.2 per cent in 2014, the current rate “was still unacceptably high”, which required robust plans to fight it.

Globally, the campaign, which forms part of the World Vision International Global Partnership’s five-year campaign dubbed: “It Takes a World to End Violence Against Children”, primarily, aims at contributing towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 5.3).

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Mr Dickens Thunde, the National Director of the World Vision, described as an “anomaly”, the inconsistency of the legal age for consensual sex in Ghana with that of marriage and called for a forensic review of the framework to make it more meaningful.  Mr Thunde blamed the increasing rate of child marriages and teenage pregnancy partly on this legal anomaly, saying, “This means some children will continue to have premarital sex for two years before reaching the legal age for marriage.”

He argued that, the 1992 Constitution and the Children’s Act 1998 (Act 560) both defined a child as a person below the age of 18, while child marriage occurred when one or both spouses were below the age of 18. Consequently, he said, it was imprudent to scale the age of consensual sex to 16.

The World Vision’s National Director noted that the menace of child marriage robbed its victims of their rights to health, protection, and education, saying ,”together they perpetuate a vicious cycle of poverty.”  Mr Thunde, therefore, asked the Government to inject adequate financial resources into the implementation of the National Strategic Framework to end child marriage by 2026 as Ghana had targeted.

Madam Esther Lehmann-Sow, the World Vision’s Regional Director for West Africa, told the Ghana News Agency that the campaign, which would be launched at Tamale on Friday, June 30, would improve the legal enforcement of child protection laws, especially the Marriage Act: Act 560.

It would also identify harmful social norms and practices against children and work towards their elimination. Additionally, it would work to empower institutions and faith communities to care and protect children from child marriage.

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Madam Lehmann-Sow called on all stakeholders, including the media, to “raise the anger against child marriage to empower children to attain their socio-economic and political goals.”  GNA