The Upper West Region is struggling with rising child marriages as more girls are being forced to drop out of school and their academic dreams shattered.
This has become a major headache for the education authorities, something that has been giving them, sleepless nights.
Mr. Evans Kpebah, the Regional Education Director, who spoke to the Ghana News Agency in Wa, said it was deeply disturbing to deny girls as young as 12 years access to basic education on the basis of cultural practice.
The region is the smallest in the country and classified as the poorest.
According to the 2015 report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the rate of child marriages in the Upper West hovered around 36.3 per cent.
Campaigners, however, say the figure could be far higher as many cases are unreported, a view Mr Kpeba shares.
He complained about the lack of community backing and stakeholder support for the fight to reverse the trend.
The worrying phenomenon is pronounced in Zinye, Bisskani, Baayiri, Dupari, Kparisaga, Goripie, Funsi, Yala, Kundugu and Manue, all in the Wa East District, Tampaala in Jirapa District, and Tinnie, Nyentie and Tiiwi in Sissala West.
Madam Rafiskata Mohammed, the Wa East District Girls’ Education Officer, said the swift intervention by her office and the regional police had saved many girls from being married off.
There remained a lot to do as the situation shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.
Abduction, elopement, forced marriage, arranged marriage, she said, had become commonplace – haunting the daily life of many a young girl in the area.
She told the story of Rukaya Ali from Gullu, who escaped early marriage in 2016, at age 17, from the Sissala West to engage in dish washing in a Wa chop bar to raise money to pay for her senior high school (SHS) education.
She is now in the final year at the Loggu Community Day SHS.
In January this year, the Wa East District Education Directorate and the police rescued another 17-year old girl, Gladys Dssah, from early marriage following a tipoff.
Gladys, who became a victim of child marriage immediately after her Basic Education Certificate Examination, scored aggregate 18 and subsequently gained admission to read General Science at the Wa Senior High School (SHS) where she was the best student.
Asata Youni, aged 14, and a primary five pupil, also had to be rescued last month (February).
GNA investigations showed that many have been forced to become child brides in the communities with no hope of receiving education.
Both boys and girls who dread of getting pushed into early marriages are now increasingly drifting to the South.
The social canker is affecting government policies, programmes and activities meant to help young girls to live their dreams and contribute towards national growth.