UNICEF focuses on ending child marriage on the International Day of the Girl Child ‘My Life, My Right, End Child Marriage’

 

UNICEF focuses on ending child marriage on the International Day of the Girl Child ‘My Life, My Right, End Child Marriage’

Global News 00:26

NEW YORK/ HONG KONG, 11 October 2012 – On the first International Day of the Girl Child, UNICEF and partners are highlighting joint efforts to end child marriage – a fundamental human rights violation that impacts all aspects of a girl’s life.

“The International Day of the Girl Child readily reflects the need to put girls’ rights at the centre of development,” said Anju Malhotra with the Gender and Rights Section in UNICEF, “The UN and partners are coming together to show the incredible progress made and to highlight the ongoing challenges.

(Left) Former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson speaks at the high-level discussion Ending Child Marriage, at UNHQ. Behind her (centre) is photojournalist Stephanie Sinclair, who has documented the issue of child marriage in many countries around the world.  On 11 October 2012 at United Nations Headquarters (UNHQ), a high-level discussion on Ending Child Marriage was held to review progress toward eliminating child marriage. Though girls are disproportionately affected, boys are also forced into child marriages. The practice disrupts childrens education, placing them at risk of multiple deprivations and increases their susceptibility to violence and abuse. The event was led by UNICEF in partnership with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and UN Women, and included an opening statement by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. It was also held in observance of the inaugural International Day of the Girl Child  to be held annually on 11 October  which recognizes the unique challenges faced by girls around the world (including early marriage) and the need for greater attention to achieving girls rights. Child marriage occurs in almost all geographic regions, though higher rates of the practice are found in South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. UNICEF continues to work with all partners to raise the legal age of marriage in all countries to 18 years and to address other forms of gender discrimination. In addition to the UN Secretary-General, other participants in the event included Bangladesh State Minister for Women and Child Affairs Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury; South African Nobel Laureate and Chair of The Elders Archbishop Desmond Tutu; Nigerian youth activist Salamatou Aghali Issoufa, 22; UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin; UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet; and UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Geeta Rao Gupta. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon makes an opening statement at the high-level discussion Ending Child Marriage, at UNHQ. Behind him are (left-right) UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Geeta Rao Gupta and UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin.  On 11 October 2012 at United Nations Headquarters (UNHQ), a high-level discussion on Ending Child Marriage was held to review progress toward eliminating child marriage. Though girls are disproportionately affected, boys are also forced into child marriages. The practice disrupts childrens education, placing them at risk of multiple deprivations and increases their susceptibility to violence and abuse. The event was led by UNICEF in partnership with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and UN Women, and included an opening statement by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. It was also held in observance of the inaugural International Day of the Girl Child  to be held annually on 11 October  which recognizes the unique challenges faced by girls around the world (including early marriage) and the need for greater attention to achieving girls rights. Child marriage occurs in almost all geographic regions, though higher rates of the practice are found in South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. UNICEF continues to work with all partners to raise the legal age of marriage in all countries to 18 years and to address other forms of gender discrimination. In addition to the UN Secretary-General, other participants in the event included Bangladesh State Minister for Women and Child Affairs Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury; South African Nobel Laureate and Chair of The Elders Archbishop Desmond Tutu; Nigerian youth activist Salamatou Aghali Issoufa, 22; UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin; UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet; and UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Geeta Rao Gupta.

”Under the headline ‘My Life, My Right, End Child Marriage’, aseries of events and actions are taking place throughout the world to draw attention to this critically important issue. At UN Headquarters in New York, Archbishop Desmond Tutu will join UNICEF, UNFPA and UN WOMEN to discuss ways governments, civil society, UN agencies and the private sector can come together to accelerate a decline in the practice of child marriage. In Malawi, a parliamentary debate will put the issue at the centre stage and in Uganda SMS technology is being used by young people to openly discuss the practice.

In partnership with governments, civil society and UN Agencies, Funds and Programmes, UNICEF is laying the groundwork to end child marriage globally. In 2011, 34 country offices reported efforts to address child marriage through social and economic change efforts and legal reform.

In India, one of the countries in the world with the largest number of girls being married before their 18th birthday, child marriage has declined nationally and in nearly all states from 54 per cent in 1992-1993 to 43 per cent in 2007-2008, but the pace of change is slow.

A banner bearing the slogan Allow me to choose my husband after I turn 18, and the logos of the Government, the NGO Tostan and UNICEF, advocates against early marriage. It is being displayed at an event in Darsilameh Village renouncing FGM/C and early marriage in 24 communities in eastern Upper River Region. The change in community practice of these traditional norms came about through their participation in the Community Development and Empowerment Programme, supported by the Government, the NGO Tostan and UNICEF.  On 14 June 2009 in the Gambia, women representing 24 neighbouring villages in Upper River Region gathered in Darsilameh Village to announce and celebrate an end to the practices of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and early marriage in their communities. An estimated 3 million African girls in 28 countries are subjected to FGM/C every year, a social convention linked to traditional perceptions of girls status for marriage. But FGM/C also causes great suffering and often life-long and life-threatening health risks. FGM/C and other pervasive practices such as early marriage are now recognized as manifestations of gender inequalities that threaten the well-being of girls and women and increase maternal health and child mortality risks. In the Gambia, 78 per cent of girls/women aged 15-49 years have been subjected to FGM/C; a figure that rises to 99 per cent in the Upper River Region. Likewise, almost half of Gambian girls marry before age 18. The 14 June celebration is part of a process, now underway in several African countries, of changing harmful and gender-discriminating social norms through a human rights-based approach, in which knowledge and support are offered to encourage positive change that is directed by community members themselves. In Upper River Region, some 80 communities  mainly from the Mandinka ethnic group  are participating in this process through the Community Development and Empowerment Programme, implemented by the Government, the international NGO Tostan and UNICEF. Public declarations renouncing harmful practices are a critical part of the process, affirming a communitys commitment and helping to create a critical mass for nationwide change. More than 600 people  including girls and women, religious leaders, village chiefs, delegates from youth and womens groups, government officials and representatives from Tostan and UNICEF  attended the Darsilameh celebration. UNICEF supported the passage of the Child Marriage Prohibition Act of 2006, and has since supported the development and implementation of a national strategy on child marriage that aims to coordinate programmes and policies to address both the causes and the consequences of child marriage. Working with individual states, UNICEF took part in developing state action plans and supported the establishment of girls clubs and collectives that were trained on child rights and how to work with the community to stimulate a dialogue about ending child marriage.

Experiences in contexts as diverse as Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Ethiopia, India, Niger, Senegal and Somaliashow how combining legal measures with support to communities, providing viable alternatives – especially schooling – and enabling communities to discuss and reach the explicit, collective decision to end child marriage, yields positive results.

“Child marriage can often result in ending a girl’s education. In communities where the practice is prevalent, marrying a girl as a child is part of a cluster of social norms and attitudes that reflect the low value accorded to the human rights of girls,” said Anju Malhotra, Gender and Rights Section, UNICEF.

20 December 2010: Salma,18, conducting a class at a Kishori Club session, where colleagues and other peer leaders discuss various social issue such as  early marriage and eve teasing in Paharpur Village, Nachol Upazila, Chapai Nawabganj. She refused early marriage, and as a peer leader she is going door to door to advocate social change in preventing early marriage.  Legally, the minimum age of marriage is 21 for boys and 18 for girls. However, 74 per cent of girls are married before the age of 18.  Over one third of girls are married before the age of 15. Although illegal, the practice of dowry  requiring a brides family to pay significant sums to the groom  encourages the marriage of the youngest adolescent girls because younger brides typically require smaller dowries. Dowry demands can continue after the wedding and sometimes result in violence against the bride when families are unable to pay. Early marriage also causes girls to drop out of education and limits their opportunities for social interaction. Only 45 per cent of adolescent girls are enrolled in secondary school and even fewer attend regularly.  New brides are expected to work in their husbands households and are subject to the same hazards as child domestic workers. In addition, early marriage leads to early pregnancy. One third of teenage girls aged 15 to 19 are mothers or are already pregnant.  Adolescent mothers are more likely to suffer from birthing complications than adult woman. Education is one of the most effective strategies to protect children against marriage. When girls are able to stay in school an attitudinal change can also occur towards their opportunities within the community.

The proportion of child brides has decreased over the last 30 years but child marriage persists at high rates in several regions of the world, particularly in rural areas and among the poorest. Some child brides are the most marginalized and vulnerable of society. Young brides are often isolated – removed from immediate families, taken out of school and denied interaction with their peers and communities.

Most recent UNICEF estimates indicate that approximately 70 million—or around 1 in 3 – young women aged 20-24 were married before age 18, with 23 million of them having been married before they turned 15. Global­ly, almost 400 million women aged 20-49, or over 40 per cent, were married while they were children.

Child marriage puts girls at risk of early and unwanted pregnancies, posing life-threatening consequences. Maternal deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth are an important component of mortality for girls aged 15-19 worldwide, accounting for some 50,000 deaths each year. Moreover, girls between 10 and 14 years of age are five times more likely than women aged 20 to 24 die in pregnancy and childbirth.

In Old Malda, a Unicef Billboard reads "No to Child Marriage. The law of the land is with me. I need your support." It is part of a 4-poster series campaign. Rumi Hemron, Member of Adolescent Girls Clubs Against Child Marriage in Assam. Now it's not our time to get married, We'll not get to play.  We'll not get to go to school, says Rumi.

“Through global commitments, civil society movements, legislation and individual initiatives girls will flourish in a safe and productive environment,” said Malhotra,” We must accelerate progress and dedicate resources for girls to claim their rights and realize their full potential.”