Investing in girls, developing their social and economic assets, ensuring they have access to education and health services, and ensuring that they can postpone marriage until they are ready; all this means greater dignity for women.
According to Executive Director of United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), Dr Babatunde Osotimehin, it also means healthier families and higher levels of gender equality. This in turn makes for stronger societies and more vibrant economies.
Dr Babatunde, in a recent report released by the UNFPA, also indicated that “investment in later marriage for girls is investment in development for everyone”.
“No society can afford the lost opportunity, waste of talent, or personal exploitation that child marriage causes,” he stated.
The UNFPA report, in which Guyana was flagged for child marriages and low life expectancy, shows what the evidence of the study tells us about this harmful practice and to assist decision makers to sharpen their focus on the urgent protection of girls’ human rights. Respect for girls’ human rights requires that we prevent and end child marriage and demands that we actively support girls who are already married. Human rights realised for girls are simply the fulfilment of our duty to them. It is, as Dr Babatunde said, the only course by which we can avert what otherwise is the human tragedy of child marriage.
The UN report stressed the need for more attention to be placed on social welfare and protection for the average citizen in middle-income countries – among which Guyana numbers.
As published in Monday’s edition of this newspaper, the report places a focus on social protection services being offered by Governments throughout the world. It details that there is more work to be done when it comes to eradicating child marriage.
According to the report, up to last year, 30 per cent of children in Guyana got married by the age of 18. Haiti’s rate was listed as 18 per cent, while in St Lucia the prevalence of child marriage was recorded at 24 per cent. Data on this subject was missing from several other regional countries.
As of 2017, the report also pegged Guyana as having a life expectancy rate of 69 years for females and 65 for males. It is a rate which does not compare well with the regional average. Trinidad and Tobago has a life expectancy of 74 for females and 67 for males, while Barbados’ rate stands at 78 years for females and 74 for males. French Guiana’s life expectancy rate stands at 83 for females and 77 for males. Suriname’s rate is 75 years for females and 68 years for males. Even Venezuela’s rate of 79 years for females and 71 years for males exceeds Guyana’s, despite the economic challenges the Spanish-speaking country is beset with.
One section of the report also ranks countries based on the rate of maternal deaths. It uses a Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) of deaths per 100,000 live births. According to the report, Guyana had an MMR of 229 deaths as of 2015.
This is a regional high, when compared to the rates in other countries. Jamaica had 89 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines clocked in at 48 and 45 respectively. Trinidad has an MMR of 63, while Barbados stood at 27.
When it comes to women having access to antenatal care, the report paints a more favourable picture of Guyana. It notes that women in Guyana are afforded the same level of access to antenatal care irrespective of rural or urban residency.
In terms of the prevalence of contraceptive use in females aged 15 to 49, 41 per cent of Guyanese women were found to use modern methods while 42 per cent used any method at all. The report also noted that 86 per cent of all births in Guyana had been attended by skilled medical personnel.
While acknowledging that great strides have been made over the years, all stakeholders in Guyana need to take note of where we are stand, or are perceived to stand, currently, with regard to these crucial issues. We must pay heed to the advice that bold initiatives need to be undertaken in order to increase access to health care, and contraceptives; and to include as many households as possible in the social protection net. Central government must lead the way, with scope for civil society and the business community to get involved. Anything less, especially in efforts to restore pride and dignity to our girls and women, will be unacceptable.