The World Youth Alliance was delighted to join the celebration of the girl child by taking part in the series of events held at UN Headquarters for the International Day of the Girl, on October 11th according to General Assembly resolution 66/170. For the first time, the reflections focused on the ‘elimination of child marriage’ as a contributing factor to the ‘apartheid of gender’ and a main obstacle to the fulfillment of the Millennium Development Goals. We applaud the efforts of the international community to take actions in affirmation of the girl’s dignity and immeasurable value in our society.
At every moment throughout the day, the consensus was clear–child marriage constitutes a fundamental violation of human rights, affecting a girl’s health, right to education, and exercise of freedom, and subsequently affecting society as a whole. Child marriage was experienced by an estimated 24.4 million girls in South Asia, 13.1 million in sub-Saharan Africa, and 8.5 million girls in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2010. This phenomenon appears mostly in rural and poor areas and impacts all regions, cultures, religions and ethnicities and the numbers are escalating every year.
Approximately 10 million girls per year are married before they reach the age of 18, and one third of these girls were married before they turned 15. In most cases they are forced to marry men four times their age, leading to servile marriages, domestic slavery, and sexual abuse, in addition to psychological and physical effects.
The major abuses of human dignity resulting from child marriage are as follows:
The value of the girl: Given the life-threatening consequences of early sexual activity, pregnancy at a young age and child bearing, in addition to the degrading treatment and inequalities that ensue, early marriage denies the fundamental equality of men and women.
The right to heath: As a consequence of the dangers associated with early pregnancy, which is often made worse by lack of adequate maternal health care and skilled birth attendants in addition to malnutrition and prevalence of HIV/AIDS and other diseases, early marriage directly contravenes the right of the girl to her health.
The freedom to consent: Children do not possess the maturity to express the full consent needed to commit to marriage and understand the act of giving themselves to their spouses.
The right to education: Early marriage prevents the girl from attending school, and thus not only disrupts her education, but also her entire future. As a consequence of prevailing gender roles and associated obligations and expectations, girls’ educational, social and economic opportunities are hampered.
The World Youth Alliance stands in solidarity with girls all over the world, and we will continue to advocate for measures that ensure the protection of the girl’s inherent dignity. Child Marriage perpetuates the cycle of poverty and is a primary deterrent to development. When girls are able to stay in school, they can build a foundation for a better life for themselves and their families and participate in the progress of their nations.
Greater efforts should be made to ensure universal access to quality education, given that girls with secondary schooling are up to six times less likely to marry as children. Empowerment of girls does not mean lack of support for boys and men, as the dignity of all young people must be cherished and protected by the international community. In the words of UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, “all society will benefit when we let girls be girls, not brides”.
By Maria Jose Garcia Manzano
WYA Advocacy Fellow