Access to Social Protection Minimum Floors as a tool to end early marriage in Mozambique.

Author:Mamad, Farida
Position:Gender and Development


Mozambique is located along the Indian Ocean in Southern Africa. It has an estimated population of 25 million, 52 per cent of whom are children (Republic of Mozambique, 2008). In 1992 a peace agreement brought an end to 15 years of civil strife. The country held its first democratic elections in 1994. In more recent years political stability and democratic governance have paved the way for sustained socio-economic development (World Bank, 2015). Mozambique now ranks among the top ten fastest growing economies in the world. The country has been recognized as an example of post-war reconstruction and economic recovery in Africa (IMF, 2016).

Notwithstanding its achievements Mozambique has remained a poor country, ranking 180 out of 188 in the 2015 Human Development Index. Life expectancy is approximately 52.6 years and is highly influenced by a HIV/AIDS prevalence of 13.5 per cent among adults aged 15-49 (INE, 2015).

Disaggregated data show that the prevalence is much higher for women (9.8 per cent) than for men (3.2 per cent). It is estimated that 6.9 per cent of young people aged 15-24 are infected with HIV. Almost two million children, i.e. approximately 15 per cent of the total number of children, are orphans because of HIV, chronic illness or poverty related reasons (where one or both parents have abandoned the child to work elsewhere) (GARPR, 2014). Although Mozambique ratified, in 1994, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it is one of the seven countries in the world that count very high levels of early marriage (ICRW, 2010).

According to the Demographic Health Survey (DHS) of 2011,14.3 per cent of Mozambican girls between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before the age of 15. The proportion of girls in the same age group that married before 18 is 48.2 per cent (MISAU, 2011). This would indicate that in 2011, 62.5 per cent of the girls between 20 and 24 entered into marriage before they turned 18.

The research that has been conducted thus far is inclined to look at early marriage as a social and medical issue. Thus far, very few people have taken a legal approach. This article intends to contribute to this lacuna and examines early marriage from the angle of social security law. It seeks to explore to what extent social protection floors (SPFs), as translated into Mozambican law, could offer an avenue to combat the problem of early marriage in Mozambique. The central question is whether the current Mozambican non-contributory social security system is adequate to protect a girl child from early marriage. The article draws on data from the Demographic Health Surveys of the Government of Mozambique (DHS) of 1997, 2003, 2011; Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) 2008; Census Projections from the National Institute of Statistics (INE) 2007; and data from the Ministry of Education. The focus is on two main age groups: first, 16 to 18 year old girls, who can, as is shown below, enter into a legal marriage as an exception to the general rule that one should be 18 and, second, those under 16, whose marriages are merely based on customary practice and are not legally permitted.

Some facts and figures on early marriage in Mozambique

The above mentioned national average of 62.5 per cent of Mozambican girls having married before the age of 18 hides major differences between the provinces. The table below illustrates that the highest rates of early marriage are found in the northern provinces. In Niassa, for example, 24.4 per cent of girls aged 20-24 were married before they turned 15 years old, as opposed to the national average of 14.3 per cent. The provinces that have the largest numbers of girls getting married in their teens are Nampula and Cabo-Delgado, with 62.2 per cent and 60.7 per cent of girls getting married between 15 and 18 years of age respectively. Also, almost all indicators are high in the rural areas and the north and center of the country, compared with the urban areas and the south (World Bank, 2015).

The figures in Table 1 are problematic, as early marriages clearly undermine the country's efforts to reduce poverty and have a negative impact on a range of wellbeing indicators for women. Generally speaking, they hinder human development, which is to be defined as a process of enlarging choices for everyone (UNDP, 1990) and of creating an environment in which people, including girls, can develop their full potential (UNDP, 1990).

As far as Mozambique in particular is concerned, research has shown that early marriage is one of the key reasons why Mozambican girls do not transition from primary to secondary education or subsequently drop out of school (Nhantumbo, 2010). As a consequence, career prospects for those girls are severely restricted, potentially limiting them to lower socio-economic status (Otoo-Oyortey and Pobi, 2003). The Mozambican national curriculum for primary education is divided into two levels: the first degree (EP1, from 1st to 5th grade) and the second degree (EP2, 6th and 7th grade). The age for enrolment in the first degree is six years, implying that children normally finish the first degree at the age of 10. Children are expected to start the second degree at the age of 11 and to complete primary education at age 15. Table 2 (above) shows that in the second degree, the level of school dropout is high, in particular again in the northern provinces. For purposes of interpretation of the data in the table below, it is important to also note that in some areas child labour, especially for boys, is a harsh reality. That explains why dropout is also high for boys in the northern provinces, and is even higher for boys than for girls in the southern provinces.

Apart from school dropout, researchers have also found a direct link between early marriage and teenage pregnancy, again in particular in the north of the country (Osorio, 2013). There is empirical evidence linking early marriage and adolescent pregnancies which shows that the overwhelming majority of teenage pregnancies occur amongst girls who have married early (UNICEF, 2010). Girls generally have their first child 15 months after marriage and rarely more than 24 months after marriage.

Teenage pregnancy brings along heightened health risks for both mother and child (INS, INE, ICF, 2010). There are findings indicating that obstetric outcomes for teenage mothers are poorer than for adult mothers, as those young mothers' bodies are not ready yet for childbearing (Tallis, 2002; Nour, 2006). Adolescent pregnancy is also associated with a higher risk of malnutrition and death among children (Liang, 2013). Pregnant girls are at an increased risk of acquiring diseases like malaria as well (Watanabe et al., 1997). Malaria kills one million people each year, 90 per cent of them in Africa. Worldwide approximately 25 million pregnant women are exposed to malaria per year, and pregnant women are among the most severely affected by the disease (WHO, 2006). In addition, pregnancy increases the risk of cervical cancer (ENPCCPM, 2015) and early sexual activity also seems to have a huge effect on HIV infection (ENPCCPM, 2015).

There are signs of improvement in the rates of early marriage in recent years. However, in almost all provinces, those modest improvements have been unable to make up for the fast population growth. This implies that even though the percentage of girls married in their teens has decreased, the absolute number of early marriages has still increased (UNICEF, 2010). Finally, in many provinces, the decline in the rate of early marriages has not translated into an improvement in adolescent pregnancy rates, also due to the increase in births out of wedlock.

According to the United Nations Children's Fund-UNICEF (2010) there are two main reasons why early marriage remains a rigid phenomenon in Mozambican society. Both economic pressure on the poorest households and prevailing sociocultural practices continue to lead families to give away their daughters for marriage at an early age, notwithstanding the fact that these girls have not yet reached sufficient maturity for marriage and pregnancy or to take responsibility to be wives and mothers (Artur, 2010).

Parents may indeed feel that their daughter's marriage will reduce family expenses or temporally increase their income in cases where they are paid the bride price. In a context of limited economic resources and opportunities, girls are often seen as a burden or an economic asset whose marriage provides cattle, money and gifts (UNICEF, 2010). While boys may also be subjected to forced marriages, the majority of victims are girls (Bott et al., 2005). Similarly, the Coalition for the Elimination of Early Marriages in Mozambique (CECAP) highlights the importance of economic factors, as girls from the richest quintile of the population and girls from households that own land are significantly less likely to get married in their teens.

Socio-cultural practices are also at play. Table 3 shows unusually robust numbers for northern regions, where practices such as initiation rites-ceremonies performed at the occasion of status changes, like puberty and marriage - keep providing the cultural basis for early marriages and perpetuate gender inequality (Osorio and Macuacua, 2013; Kurth et al., 2015). The direct link between initiation rites and early marriage is obvious (Osorio and Macuacua, 2013), as such rites shape expectations on the role of girls in society and reproductive practice (Singh and Samara, 1996). According to UNICEF (2015) the resilience of traditional institutions and the opinion of leaders at the community level are, indeed, still shaping attitudes and practices in Mozambique. Initiation rites are still not balanced by information provided through formal sexual education, which works as an antagonist practice vis-a-vis the fight against early marriages and all its negative consequences including school dropout, health risks and...

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