The world we want: an end to child marriage
20 September | Global
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has recommended that a new agenda for international development should ensure the empowerment, wellbeing and social protection of the world’s most vulnerable people. In a commentary for the renowned medical journal The Lancet, three prominent figures in international development argue that to translate these principles into action and tangible results, we must end child marriage.
With discussions underway about what a new plan of action for reducing global poverty will look like when the Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015, Graça Machel, Gunilla Carlsson and Emilia Pires write that we have a unique opportunity to envisage the world we want by 2030. The authors, who were each members of the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, argue that to ensure a life of dignity for all, “the elimination of child marriage is imperative because it is inextricably linked to progress on a range of issues that affect children and young people.”
Mrs Machel, Carlsson and Pires highlight the links between maternal mortality rates and child marriage, writing that pregnancy-related complications are the leading cause of death in girls aged 15-19 years in developing countries. Of the 16 million adolescent girls who give birth every year, they add, about 90% are already married. They also point to a recent study which showed that a reduction in rates of child marriage could be associated with a substantial reduction in the numbers of deaths in childbirth.
Ending child marriage must feature in a new development agenda, but, the authors write, there is much that can be done now to tackle child marriage and to improve the well-being of girls. One specific action is to ensure that sexual, reproductive, and maternal health programmes, which are usually designed for older women, also cater to the needs of adolescent girls and child brides. Another concrete step is to improve birth and marriage registration systems, which would make it easier to prove girls’ age at marriage and to reach child brides with targeted programmes and services. There is also a need for greater investment in programmes that support girls at risk of child marriage.
“We are confident that with political will, appropriate investments, and programmes tailored to local settings, we can bring an end to child marriage by 2030,” conclude the authors. “By doing so, we will help to address some of the world’s most intractable poverty and human rights challenges and ensure a positive future for girls worldwide.”
About the authors:
- Graça Machel is a founder of the Graça Machel Trust, Chair of the Partnership for Maternal Newborn and Child Health, and a member of The Elders (Founders of Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage).
- Emilia Pires is Timor-Leste’s Minister of Finance.
- Gunilla Carlsson is Sweden’s former Minister for International Development Cooperation.