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MAJOR action by international governments at the United Nations to tackle the global blight of child marriage has been welcomed by child rights organisation, Plan International.
Today, for the first time in history, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, adopted a resolution dedicated to the issue of child, early and forced marriage.
The resolution, which was unanimously adopted with the support of more than 100 States is a new milestone in global efforts to combat this harmful practice. It recognises child marriage as a human rights violation and calls for a UN panel discussion and a report on challenges, achievements and best practices for preventing and eliminating child marriage.
The call for a report, based on contributions from States, UN agencies and non-governmental actors, has been welcomed by Plan, as it will shape future developments at the international level.
The resolution follows a high-level event that took place in New York, USA, on Wednesday, as part of the opening session of the 68th Session of the UN General Assembly. The governments of Canada, Ghana and the Netherlands, together with UNFPA and UNICEF called for urgent, concerted action to end child marriage.
Plan was represented at the high-level event, ‘Too Young to Wed’, by youth delegate Farwa. The 17-year-old girl from Pakistan shared her personal experience of child marriage in her community and her thoughts on how best to end it.
During the event in New York, the Minister for Foreign Trade and International Development for the Netherlands, the Hon. Lilianne Ploumen, argued that child marriage was a violation of human rights and announced that the Government of the Netherlands would dedicate more resources to support advocacy and activism designed to end child marriage.
Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Hon. John Baird, stated that child marriage prevented economic and social development and reconfirmed that ending child marriage is a top foreign policy priority for the Government of Canada.
The Hon. Hanna S. Tetteh, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration of the Republic of Ghana, stated that the Government is committed to finding solutions and changing the way people think, given that one in four girls in Ghana is married before the age of 18.
Child marriage is a global issue which the UN predicts will lead to more than 140 million girls becoming child brides in the decade leading up to 2020 if allowed to continue. This equates to 14 million child brides every year or nearly 39,000 girls married every day.
According to Plan’s report, A girl’s right to say no to marriage, published earlier this year, child marriage negatively affects young girls in many ways, including robbing them of their rights to health and protection from violence, as well as their childhood more broadly. Child marriage is associated with higher rates of violence, abuse, and forced sexual relations, putting girls are at risk of sexually transmitted diseases, early pregnancy, and even death.
Every year, nearly 13.7 million 15-19 year olds in the developing world give birth while married, with harrowing consequences. Complications in pregnancy and childbirth are the key cause of death for these girls, while babies born to young mothers are more likely to be stillborn, premature or are at a heightened risk of dying.
Child marriage also forces girls to leave school early, robbing them of their right to an education. According to Plan, education helps to delay child marriage, with evidence suggesting the more education a girl receives, the less likely she is to be married before the age of 18.
Nigel Chapman, CEO of Plan International, says:
“Child marriage is a serious violation of children’s rights, one that disproportionately affects girls around the world and prevents them from completing their education. Education is considered one of the most important factors in delaying the age of marriage of girls, and giving girls more choices and opportunities.
“We want to ensure that all children can fulfil their right to a quality education, in a safe and supportive environment. We need more efforts like the great commitments shown by UN Member States in Geneva and New York this week to support children to say ‘no’ to marriage and continue their education.”
As International Day of the Girl Child 2013 approaches, Plan hopes the recent events in Geneva and New York will hopefully support prevention programming and national policy change that will ensure the minimum age of marriage is 18 for both boys and girls, with or without parental consent and that children, families and communities are an active part of the solution.
Plan’s Because I am a Girl campaign aims to ensure that girls receive a quality primary education and can safely transition, to and successfully complete, quality secondary school. It seeks to enable girls to have more choices in life, to allow them to play an active role in the community, to participate in decisions that affect them, and to break intergenerational cycles of poverty, insecurity and ill health.