Child marriage cannot be left unaddressed; we cannot let it go unchallenged
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, 29May 2014 –“We cannot down play or neglect the harmful practice of child marriage as it has long term and devastating effects on these girls whose health is at risk and at worst leading to death due to child birth and other complications,” says Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union Commission.
“Child marriage concerns human rights, gender, health and culture and is a development issue which is complex, caused and maintained by a number of factors, such as poverty, gender based violence and gender discrimination, among others,” she said in her statement read on her behalf by Dr Mustapha Sidiki Kaloko, the AUC Commissioner for Social Affairs at the continental launch of the African Union Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa, held on 29 May 2014, at the African Union Commission Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The AUC Chairperson reaffirmed her unwavering commitment to ensure sustained political will and continuous coordination and harmonization of all efforts to achieve the desired goals.
Child marriage continues to affect millions of girls every year in Africa with the resultant outcome of high rates in maternal and child mortality; obstetric fistula, premature births, sexually transmitted diseases (including cervical cancer), and HIV and domestic violence. Girls continue to be married as children in Africa, with more than five and a half million women who are today in their early 20s married before they reached their 15th birthday.
Participants at the launch, who included African Ministers in-charge of Social Development, UN agencies, civil society organisations, experts, and survivors of child marriage, were informed that if nothing was done in the next decade, 14.2 million girls under 18 years will be married every year, which translates into 39,000 girls married each day. If this trend continues, the number of girls under 15 giving birth is expected to rise from 2 million to 3 million by 2030, in Africa. The costs of inaction, in terms of rights unrealized, foreshortened personal potential and lost development opportunities, far outweigh the costs of interventions.
Ms. Bineta Diop, the AUC Special Envoy for Women, Peace and Security emphasized that educating girls, will help improve Africa’s socio-economic development and that no child’s education should be interrupted at any time because of marriage. She noted that the real cases of child marriage happen at the grassroots and all stakeholders must work to ensure that this campaign gets to the local communities.
Despite these challenges, child marriage rates are declining as a result of local action in African countries. “As we watch the rates of child marriage decline, we can expect to seemore girls in school for a longer time, more girls accessing health and protection services, less violence against women and girls, more qualified women participating in the labour force and more empowered women who are able to overcome poverty for themselves, their children and their family,”said Martin Mogwanja, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, while reaffirming UNICEF’s commitment to supporting the campaign.
“Child marriage remains a fundamental human rights violation and is a symptom of the prevailing gender inequalities all of us are fighting so hard to prevent,” he added, while also highlighting the existing pan-African momentum and partnership on ending child marriage.
On her part, Dr. Julitta Onabanjo, UNFPA Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, confirmed support to the campaign, noting: “Ending child marriage will require unambiguous political commitment, visionary leadership, and support for grassroots advocacy to address many of the cultural practices and behaviors that place young women and girls at increased multiple health risks, including HIV.”
She noted that laws needed to be enforced against child marriage, including the enactment and enforcement of laws that raise the minimum age at marriage to 18.“It is therefore imperative to ensure holistic policy environment that supports and promotes human rights, builds capacity and empowers individuals, community stakeholders and organizations to change attitudes and the cultural and religious norms that perpetuate child marriage is critical,” she urged.
An important highlight of the launch was the naming of Ms. Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda as a Goodwill Ambassador for the campaign. MsGumbonzvanda is currently the General Secretary of the World YWCA. She is a trained human rights lawyer from Zimbabwe with extensive experience in conflict resolution and mediation, including 20 years’ experience on issues of women and children’s human rights, with a special focus on crisis countries.
The campaign was launched during the Conference of Ministers of Social Development, held under the theme, “Strengthening the African Family for Inclusive Development in Africa”and will aim at ending child marriage by: (i) supporting legal and policy actions in the protection and promotion of human rights, (ii) mobilizing continental awareness of the negative socio-economic impact of child marriage, (iii) building social movement and social mobilization at the grassroots and national levels; and (iv) increasing the capacity of non-state actors to undertake evidence based policy advocacy including the role of youth leadership through new media technology, monitoring and evaluation among others.
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