African Traditional Practices and the Exploitation of Girls

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Africa is rich in cultural diversity, norms, ritual and traditions. While many of these cultural practices contribute to the positive image of Africa, some of the practices however create a fertile environment for the de-humanization and enslavement of women`s rights.
To tackle these social ills, some countries have taken some legal steps to protect the rights of women from to harmful traditional and cultural practices. However, the story is still different in many African countries, where women are exposed to many dangerous and discriminatory practices, which leave them in the state of venerability.
In many African countries, women have much less access to basic education on the ground that they are expected to be “married off.“ It is therefore expected that a girl a potential mother immediately after her marriage. Arguably therefore, her education is a “waste“ of time and money. Does this traditional practice limit a woman`s role to home? Is her identity pre-defined? Does this pre-defined identity make her accept an inferiority position against a man? Even though this traditional practice.
The SADC Protocol on Gender and Development urges member states to ensure that girls enjoy the same rights as boys and are protected from harmful cultural attitudes and practices. These measures include legislation to discourage traditional norms, which legitimise and perpetuate gender based and socio-economic inequality.
For example, in Madagascar, several harmful cultural practices compromise young girls’ lives and rights. According to a UNFPA report on violence in Madagascar, half of all women between the ages 20 and 24 were married before they reached the age 18.
Early marriage is widespread in the country, putting an abrupt end to girls’ childhoods, separating them from their families and hindering their education. The practice locks girls into a life of sexual exploitation and domestic servitude.
In the Masikoro tribe, it is customary that after puberty, girls live in different buildings from their parents. This is a transitional period between childhood and adulthood.. A young woman is supposed to be set free to chart her own destiny. However, in practice the custom exposes young women to a range of risks, including early marriage, pregnancy, and preterm delivery and maternal mortality.
Human rights defenders in Madagascar vehemently oppose these practices. Norotiana Jeannoda, President of the Union of Social Workers confirms, “Traditional practices are fueling violence against women and girls. The worst thing is there is nothing being done to punish those involved in the exploitation of children, who are the victims of these traditions.“
Women’s lack of information, education and access to the formal legal system as a method of redress further exacerbates this situation.
The SADC Protocol on Gender and Development urges member states to ensure that girls enjoy the same rights as boys and are protected from harmful cultural attitudes and practices.
These measures include legislation to discourage traditional norms, which legitimise and perpetuate gender based and socio-economic inequality.
For example, in Madagascar, several harmful cultural practices compromise young girls’ lives and rights. According to a UNFPA report on violence in Madagascar, half of all women between the ages 20 and 24 were married before they reached the age 18.
Early marriage is widespread in the country, putting an abrupt end to girls’ childhoods, separating them from their families and hindering their education. The practice locks girls into a life of sexual exploitation and domestic servitude.
In the Masikoro tribe, it is customary that after puberty, girls live in different buildings from their parents. This is a transitional period between childhood and adulthood.
A young woman is supposed to be set free to chart her own destiny. However, in practice the custom exposes young women to a range of risks, including early marriage, pregnancy, and preterm delivery and maternal mortality.
Human rights defenders in Madagascar vehemently oppose these practices. Norotiana Jeannoda, President of the Union of Social Workers confirms, “Traditional practices are fueling violence against women and girls. The worst thing is there is nothing being done to punish those involved in the exploitation of children, who are the victims of these traditions.“

Fanja Razafimahatratra is a freelance reporter in Madagascar. This article is part of the Gender Links News Service, special series on 16 Days of Activism, providing fresh views on everyday news.