A recent study by Save the Children, shows that cohabiting which is often referred to locally as “Tap to me” in Sierra Leone is on the increase.

According to the research titled- “My Body. My Decision. My Rights: Reducing Child And Forced Marriage In Sierra Leone”, the practice of “Tap to me” tends to sidestep the constitutional age of marriage. The study revealed that pregnant girls move in to live with the family of the man or boy who is responsible until the child is delivered.

Awoko Newspaper reports that  Save the Children International Project Director, Modupe Taiwo said, “The practice ‘Tap to me’- from what we learned, is not an official marriage, but as long as this girl is pregnant, then she’s transported into the family of the man that is responsible and she begins to live it there. And as far as I know, after five years of cohabiting successfully, you are assumed to be married under Sierra Leone law.”

“ ‘Tap to me’ is happening under our noses… You won’t see it as registered as a marriage, what is happening?”

The research also shows that albeit the general feeling that progress is being made to end child marriage, through government intervention by establishing and amending policies and legislation; there is a difference in opinion on whether it is adequately enforced as child marriages are on the rise.

Pointing out that such forms of child marriage bring about the same devastating consequences for girls and can often go undetected, the study further shows that “while some girls return to school after giving birth, most continue to live with the father of the child resulting in an informal common-law marriage that is often hidden and not counted as an official case of child marriage.”

According to the research there is inconsistency in the accountability mechanism around reporting cases of child marriage. “While some will report it to the authorities, including the parents, community leaders, Family Support Unit, or the Ministry of Social Welfare worker, on the other hand, some would speak to the child, or to her parents, to try to convince them to change their minds and others would do nothing as they feel it is not their business, or they cannot do anything. There is also a concern that they will face backlash if they report. While some are not aware to whom they should report,” the report reveals.

The study concluded, “It is clear that the primary drivers for Child Early and Forced Marriage is adolescent pregnancy, poverty and family shame related to an unmarried pregnant girl leading to increasing practice of ‘Tap to Me’. Consequently, unofficial child marriages continue undetected and prohibition laws unenforced.”

Adding, “the Ministry of Gender and Children’s Affairs and Ministry of Social Welfare has the responsibility to drive the behavioural change campaigns towards sustainable positive behaviours and practices that eliminate early child marriage.”

Further that “the Hands Off Our Girls” campaign presents opportunity for multi-stakeholders’ collaboration to drive the behaviour change.

Thus recommending that “synergy should be built among the stakeholders.”