Girls Not Brides – The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage


CASABLANCA, MOROCCO – Progress towards ending child marriage needs to accelerate, warned hundreds of civil society organisations gathered in Casablanca this week for a meeting of Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage. Over 250 grassroots activists from 63 countries working on the frontlines of child marriage urged the international community to step up their efforts to end a practice that affects 15 million girls every year.

Over 700 million women alive today were married as children. That is 10% of the world’s population. In the developing world, one in three girls are married off before the age of 18, depriving them of their right to education, health and a life free from violence. Child marriage holds back not just girls, but their families, their communities and their countries’ development too.

Screenshot from 2015-05-24 11:38:42“As a physician, I have seen first-hand the devastating effects on girls’ mental and physical health when they are married as children,” explained Dr Ashok Dyalchand from the Institute for Health Management Pachod, India. “The majority of these girls bear children when they are still children themselves. Girls who give birth before 15 are five times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than women in their early 20s.”

“For too long girls have been seen as a liability. It’s high time that we recognise their right to choose if, when and whom to marry,” said Priya Kath from India representing the South Asia Regional Youth Network (SARYN). “We must guarantee the support to make their aspirations a reality.”

A taboo subject only a few years ago, child marriage is now firmly on the international and regional agenda, thanks to the tireless efforts of organisations working in communities where the practice is most widespread.

“We have made great strides in reducing child marriage rates globally, but progress is too slow,” said Lakshmi Sundaram, Executive Director of Girls Not Brides. “If we don’t accelerate our efforts, more than 1 billion women will have been married as children by 2050.”

In Morocco, where the meeting took place, the prevalence of child marriage halved over the past 30 years and the practice has been illegal since 2004. However, 16% of Moroccan girls are still married before the age of 18, particularly in rural areas, where Fondation YTTO sends teams of medics, lawyers and social workers.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Mabel van Oranje meet traditional leaders in Zambia who are engaged in the national campaign to end child marriage. PHOTO CREDIT: François D'Elbee|Girls Not Brides

Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Mabel van Oranje meet traditional leaders in Zambia who are engaged in the national campaign to end child marriage. PHOTO CREDIT: François D’Elbee|Girls Not Brides

Najat Ikhich, president of Fondation YTTO, said: “Every year we head out to the remotest villages in Morocco to raise awareness of the impact of child marriage and carry out health checks for girls who are often mothers by the time they are 15, sometimes younger. Child marriage is sadly still a common occurrence. These marriages are carried out under customary law, without proper documentation, and a loophole in the Family Code allows judges to authorise marriages below 18 in certain circumstances.”

She added: “Once women and girls are aware of their rights and the benefits of ending the practice, we’ve seen rates of early marriage drop dramatically. We also need socio-economic programmes that support girls who were married early, and the political will to implement them.”

Over the past few months, child marriage has been the focus of a UN General Assembly resolution, an African Union campaign, a regional action plan by governments in South Asia, and the first ever ‘Girl Summit’ organised in London. Significantly, the Sustainable Development Goals, which will be adopted at a UN summit in New York in September and will shape international development priorities for the next fifteen years, are likely to include a target to end child marriage.

“The current level of attention to child marriage is unprecedented. It is time to turn these commitments into action on the ground,” said Mabel van Oranje, Chair of Girls Not Brides. “We urge UN members to include a target to end child marriage in the new Sustainable Development Goals. We also need support for programmes that provide girls and their families with viable alternatives to child marriage. And we need laws and policies that help to create a brighter and more equal future for girls.”

“We must educate men and boys, too. How can we tell girls that they are free to decide if and when to marry if we don’t teach boys they need to respect their choice? It takes time but once men in girls’ lives see the benefits of ending child marriage, we will see change,” said Moussa Sidikou from CONIDE in Niger, the country with the highest rate of child marriage in the world (76%).

Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda of Zimbabwe, African Union Goodwill Ambassador for the Campaign to End Child Marriage and General Secretary of World YWCA, said: “Across Africa, a growing number of governments have committed to addressing child marriage. This is a welcome development that needs to be informed and accompanied by civil society and replicated across the continent. To end child marriage, we need all partners to work together in developing context-specific, comprehensive, and adequately funded national action plans.”

She added: “We know what it takes to end child marriage. We have the data, we know the issue, we know the causes, we know the interventions required. We just need to act.”

Specific and immediate steps that can be taken to address child marriage include:

  • Governments should develop national action plans to end child marriage. In collaboration with civil society organisations, development partners and others, governments should implement comprehensive and well-resourced action plans to end child marriage.
  • Invest in programmes that empower girls. Develop programmes that equip girls with skills and knowledge to determine their own future.
  • Establish laws and policies that set 18 as the minimum age for marriage, remove legal loopholes – related to parental consent or customary laws – and protect women and girls’ rights.
  • Provide adequate health, education, justice and other services, to provide girls and their families with alternatives child marriage.

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