According to UNICEF, over 600 million women worldwide were married before the age of 18. U.N. Women in Kayes, Sikasso and Moptiwas identified Mali, the eighth largest country in Africa, as a hotspot for child marriage. A study conducted by the National Library of Medicine found that 58.2% of Malian women aged 18-49 were married before their 18th birthday and 20.3% before the age of 15. There are several factors driving child marriage, but poverty is a particularly influential force. As one of the poorest nations in Africa, Mali is extremely vulnerable to child marriage practices with over 50% of the population living in extreme poverty. While its humanitarian situation has worsened in recent years, Mali is committed to eliminating child marriage through national and global initiatives.
5 Facts About Child Marriage in Mali
- Gender Inequality – Child marriage disproportionately affects girls due to extreme gender disparities that marginalize women. According to the Gender Inequality Index, Mali ranked as the 186th worst country in terms of gender equality. Girls in Mali often face restrictions and control by men with many being denied access to education especially those who marry as children. Also, child marriage in Mali is closely associated with high rates of female genital mutilation (FGM) — a practice that typically involves partial or complete removal of external female genitalia. UNICEF concluded that 89% of girls and women in Mali have undergone FGM. Unfortunately, FGM is a common premarital practice affecting thousands of girls in Mali.
- Lack of Education – Limited educational opportunities put Malian girls at a higher risk of child marriage compared to those with higher levels of education. Data from the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) in 2015 indicates that 50% of women who completed only primary school were married before the age of 18, compared to 18% of those who pursued further education. The exclusion of girls from educational spaces exacerbates their vulnerability to child marriage.
- Cultural Norms – Certain cultural practices in Southern Mali contribute to child marriage. For example, bride kidnapping is a prevalent custom that forces abducted girls to marry their captors to preserve notions of “purity.” Girls who refuse to marry their abductors often face social stigma, with assumptions about their lost virginity. Family honor holds significant value in Mali and many girls are forced into marriage to prevent premarital sex and pregnancy, which is considered shameful by many Malian families.
- COVID-19 – Unfortunately, many Malian households were negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to UNICEF, the number of Malian individuals in need of humanitarian assistance rose from 4.3 to 6.8 million in July 2020, which includes 3.5 million children due to issues such as financial hardships and school closings amongst others. Consequently, more girls are in danger of child marriage because of these issues.
- Poverty – Poverty plays a central role in child marriage, influencing other key factors such as gender inequality, limited education and harmful cultural practices. Because Malian women are disproportionately affected by poverty, they are more likely to use marriage as a means of income. Furthermore, in some regions, women in Mali are sold and bought for financial gain which makes them more likely to be viewed as a commodity. Girls in poverty are also less likely to have access to education and welfare protection which leaves them increasingly vulnerable to child marriage. According to Girls Not Brides, 51% of women in the poorest households were married before their 18th birthday compared to 36% in wealthier households.
Mali is actively developing national action plans to eliminate child and forced marriage. For example, Mali set the minimum age of marriage to 18 under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Along with this, Mali is one of nine countries in Africa to sign the AU Campaign to End Child Marriage.
Also, Mali committed to a 5-year action plan in July 2021 at the Generation Equality Forum in France to advance efforts toward improving gender equality. The goal is to use a $40 million investment to develop both legal and social change to end various forms of gender-based violence including child marriage and FGM by 2026. First Lady Mali Keïta Aminata Maïga led a campaign entitled “Education for girls: a means to eliminating early child marriage” which advocates for keeping girls in school to help end child marriage.
The fight against child marriage in Mali gain globed traction after the European Union made an $18 million investment between 2019-2020 which is meant to go toward ending harmful and violent practices toward women. These funds have been funneled to various organizations that promote legislation on gender-based violence, institutions supporting government efforts, prevention methods, data collection agencies, social monitoring platforms and support services. Ultimately, this investment will help decrease child marriage rates in Mali.
While Mali has put forth massive plans to decrease child marriage cases, continual efforts must be made in order to address this issue. Facilitating access to education and promoting financial relief for Malians in poverty will be instrumental in eradicating child marriage in Mali altogether.
– Olivia Welling