Mozambique, a nation of 28 million people, stretches along the east coast of southern Africa, from Tanzania down to South Africa.
It is the world’s 36th largest country in size and is blessed with a diversity of natural resources. Around half of its land mass is considered capable of supporting arable farming and 25 major river systems, including the Zambezi river – the fourth longest in Africa – and the Limpopo. With extensive mineral resources and a 2,700 km coastline, it has the potential to be an African success story.
Instead, it remains one of the poorest countries in the world, ranking 181 out of 189 in the 2016 Human Development Report. Almost 70% of the population live below the poverty line and 44% are considered to be in severe poverty, meaning that they are deprived even of their basic needs, such as food, water, sanitation facilities and education.
A 16 year long civil war ended in 1992 but progress back towards normality remains slow. According to the National Institute for Disaster Management (INGC), between 1980 and 2012 Mozambique faced 24 floods, 12 droughts and 16 cyclones, in addition to the January 2013, February 2014, and January 2015 floods and the 2017 Tropical cyclone Dineo.
With its long coastline, its fishermen are vulnerable to the effects of ocean acidification. An eight year study published in October 2017 reported that carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere is dissolving in seawater, producing carbonic acid. Shellfish are at particular risk, but larger fish are also affected.
A 2015 report from the Netherlands Commission for Environmental Assessment warned that “Poverty, weak institutional development and frequent extreme weather events make Mozambique especially vulnerable. Climate-related hazards such as droughts, floods and cyclones are occurring with increasing frequency, which is having a cumulative and devastating impact on a population that is insufficiently prepared.”
It is against this backdrop of increasing hardship and impoverishment that the number of child marriages in the country is rising, despite efforts by the national government to tackle the issue.
Mozambique sits ninth in the world league table for child marriage, with nearly one in two girls married by the age of 18 (48.2%) and 14.3% married by 15.
The legal age of marriage is 18 but girls can marry at 16 with parental consent. In 2015 the government of Mozambique approved a national strategy for limiting child marriage, but the rising population has actually resulted in an increase in the number of marriages.
The highest rates of child marriage are found in the northern provinces including Nampula, home to Carlina and tens of thousands of other girls like her. Unicef found that 129,604 girls in the province were married before their 18th birthday. The largest numbers of adolescent pregnancies were also found in the region (107,553 girls).
The Unicef report noted that girls in rural areas married earlier than those in towns and cities. Improvements in the rate of child marriage were outweighed by an increase in population and two provinces (Nampula and Maputo) had seen 10 per cent increases between 1997 and 2011 in rates of pregnancies among girls aged below 15, an increase the report described as “statistically significant”. It found that the highest increase was in Nampula, where in 2011 there were an additional 27,052 pregnancies among the under 18s than in 2003.
Fatima Mussa is about to add to the birthrate; the 16 year old is nine months pregnant. She married 18-year-old Priorina Antonio when she was 15 after he approached her father in the village of Nataka, in Nampula province and offered him MT 2,000 (£25). There was no ceremony.
She hadn’t really wanted to get married. On the other hand, her father could no longer afford to keep her.
“Priorino came to find me and asked me if we could get married,” she says. “I told him ‘If you want me, you need to ask permission to my parents’. When he arrived in front of my parents, my father said ‘I would have never considered allowing my daughter to marry now, because she is young. But she will marry because I don’t have enough money to send her to secondary school.’
“I didn’t want to get married at such a young age, but I didn’t know what to do, since I couldn’t go to school. So I saw an opportunity to marry someone who could improve maybe a little bit my life.
“I really wasn’t happy about marrying Priorino. I had the idea of running away, abandoning my father who was in favour of the marriage, and going to a new city, starting a new life. But I couldn’t, I don’t have any family members in another city who could help me. All my family lives here. So I couldn’t run, I didn’t have anywhere else to go.”
It all started to go wrong in 2012. Up to then, production had been fine, but then the rain became more and more erratic. There were floods and droughts and production collapsed.
Aid agencies and campaign groups warn that there is a direct link between crisis and child marriage.
Girls Not Brides, an international advocacy group campaigning for an end to child marriage, reported in 2016 that “child marriage rates have increased in some crisis situations. While gender inequality is a root cause of child marriage in both stable and fragile contexts, often in times of crisis, families see child marriage as a way to cope with economic hardship exacerbated by crisis and to protect girls from increased violence”.
The response of the government of Mozambique has been to put in place a national strategy for Adaptation and Mitigation to Climate change until 2025, considering that “climate changes cannot be avoided” and that “its impacts translate into increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as droughts, floods, cyclones, changes in temperature and precipitation patterns and other phenomena such as rising sea levels, saline intrusion and forest fires, among others”.