Twenty-five thousand children worldwide, most of whom are
girls, are married every day. While many
countries have laws that clearly prohibit and penalize child marriage, more
often than not, these laws are not enforced. In fact, laws prohibiting child
marriage often coexist with and are superseded in practice by religion-based
laws that permit child marriage.
More recently, U.N bodies have strengthened their call to
governments to end child marriage for obvious reasons: the practice egregiously
violates a broad range of women’s and girls’ human rights. Young girls aged
10-19 bear nearly a quarter of the burden of death and disability associated
with early pregnancy and childbirth and children are forced to bear children
while still children themselves. Yet, child marriage continues with impunity
mainly because of the failure of national governments to fulfill their commitment
to eliminate the practice and the absence of legal and political accountability.
It is important to recognize the ways in which lack of
government accountability specifically for the failure to prevent and punish
child marriage has undermined the achievement of several Millennium Development
Goals. In Nepal, for instance, where notable progress has been made towards the
achievement of MDG 5.A on reduction of maternal mortality, the risk of maternal
death among adolescent girls remains high due to child marriage. Further, Nepal
has made the least progress with respect to MDG 3 on gender equality, in part
because of its failure to eliminate child marriage.
The U.N. must make ending child marriage a priority in the Post-2015
development framework by including it as a specific target. Clear recognition of the elimination of child
marriage in the new agenda will ensure its prioritization and establish a clear
basis for routine monitoring of progress towards its elimination, which will help
ensure accountability. Further it will convey the important message that crimes
against women and children in the name of marriage must not be tolerated.
While ending child marriage is an important goal in itself, it
is also critical for promoting gender equality and addressing gender-based
discrimination. The President of the General Assembly and the Secretary-General
must set a framework that effectively tackles discrimination against women by expressing
a clear commitment to achieving substantive equality for women in all spheres
including marriage and promoting their sexual and reproductive autonomy as a matter of human rights.
About this post: In
September the UN President of the General Assembly (PGA) will be hosting a “High-level
Stock-taking Event on the Post-2015 Development Agenda” in New York. Civil
society is being asked to provide comments which will inform the event—a
critical input into the Secretary-General’s synthesis report on the post-2015
development agenda. The above comments were submitted to the UN PGA by the
Center for Reproductive Rights.