Two United Nations agencies today welcomed the first campaign by the African Union to end child marriage, a practice that robs over 17 million girls – 1 in 3 – across the continent of their youth.
“What we are seeing today is an Africa-wide movement of leaders and organizations collectively saying ‘No to Child Marriage’,” said Martin Mogwanja, Deputy Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
“This push led by Africans for Africans must not stop until every girl in every family and every community has the right to reach her 18th birthday before getting married,” he added in a news release.
The campaign, launched today in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, is set to run for an initial period of two years with national launches anticipated in 10 countries.
Although civil society actors have been pressing hard on the issue of child marriage for several years, this is the first time that such a large range of government officials, organizations, UN agencies and individuals, including youth and children, are vowing to collectively end child marriage.
“Data makes it clear that child marriage is first and foremost a grave threat to young girls’ lives, health and future prospects and a breach of girls’ fundamental human rights,” said Julitta Onabanjo, Regional Director for the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).
“The costs of inaction, in terms of rights unrealized, foreshortened personal potential and lost development opportunities, far outweigh the costs of interventions,” added Dr. Onabanjo.
The UN agencies noted that since girl brides often come from the most marginalized families in African societies, strong and sustained political commitment to adopt appropriate legal, institutional, social and economic measures to keep them away from child marriage will be required.
Globally, 9 out of the 10 countries with the highest rates of child marriage are found in Africa –namely Niger (75 per cent), Chad and Central African Republic (68 per cent), Guinea (63 per cent), Mozambique (56 per cent), Mali (55 per cent), Burkina Faso and South Sudan (52 per cent), and Malawi (50 per cent).
According to the UN, more than 140 million girls worldwide will become child brides between 2011 and 2020 if current rates continue. Of these, 50 million girls will be under the age of 15.
Aside from UNFPA and UNICEF, the campaign brings together a large range of partners, including the Ford Foundation, the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), Save the Children, Plan international, Africa Child Policy Forum and the United Kingdom Department for International Development.