Meet Mercy Owusu, the #RightByHer Youth Champion Fighting Child Marriage in Ghana

The Right By Her campaign works with a group of champions including African young men and women, First Ladies, parliamentarians, journalists, feminists and religious leaders. The champions raise awareness in their circles of influence and push for increased funding for implementation of policies on gender equality and sexual and reproductive health and rights in Africa.

My name is Mercy Owusu and I am a Right By Her youth champion from Ghana. I have been actively involved in the campaign, raising awareness on women’s rights issues and gender equality in Ghana through social media messaging, one-on-one meetings with young girls and women to educate them on different SRHR issues, and advocating for policy changes that will enable women and girls to enjoy their rights to the fullest without hindrances.

Mercy Owusu. Photo by Brian Otieno for DSW.

One of the issues we are working on in Ghana is early child marriage because the rates are very high. This is mostly because we have a lot of oil discoveries in the country. In the mining areas, we see a lot of young girls married off at very young ages so that they can work with the men in the farms, mining fields or oil companies.

We are advocating for policy change and asking the government to look at these policies because the age of consent is 16 in Ghana. We are advocating for the age of consent to be changed from 16 to 18 in order to protect the young girls. When men take advantage of girls who are still in school, they usually say that the girls consented to the sexual activity since they are 16 years old and can be married at 18. The two years between 16 and 18 have always been used like an open cheque that can be signed by anyone at any given time, leaving our girls vulnerable and abused.

We are advocating for policy change to help curb the prevalence of child marriage because, once the age of consent is moved from 16 to 18, girls will remain in school and concentrate on their education and work towards becoming a doctor or a lawyer or any other career of her choice. During this time, it would be extremely difficult for her to drop out of school and marry. If the law is enforced, this is how it will help the young girls in the country to make better decisions and lead better lives.

SRHR is very important for young girls. They should have access to proper SRHR information because when they are informed, they are able to make informed decisions. Without proper information, they are operating in a vacuum. Knowledge about their SRHR helps young girls to understand the steps to take with their sexuality at any given stage.

It is important for the youths to have access to contraceptives. However, it is very difficult when they go to ordinary health facilities in search of these services. The law is very clear on contraception access but how often does a young girl go to a nurse seeking these services without being ashamed or faced with discrimination? If there are youth-friendly services available, youths can just walk in, get the services and make decisions for themselves.

Photo by Brian Otieno for DSW.

It is better for the young girls to decide for themselves. It’s her right, her body, and she knows what she wants to use it for. You have no right to stop her from what she wants to do. The best thing is to give her the right information and educate her about the pros and cons of her decision – this will help her to make informed choices.

If we have youth-friendly services at the health facilities where the youths can walk in freely and access information, this will help them a great deal and that is why we are lobbying with the stakeholders to look at hospitals and equip them with these youth-friendly services.

My wish for the Ghanaian youths is that every young girl can take good care of herself and make decisions for herself. Nobody should be left behind, and nobody should make decisions for them. They should be given the right information to decide on what to do for themselves, their communities, their families and their nation as a whole.

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