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Ending child, early and forced marriage and the post-2015 development agenda: The Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals

www.un.org/milleniumgoals/

In 2000, the international community agreed upon a set of eight goals, known as the Millennium Development Goals, which aimed to reduce extreme poverty. The goals galvanised efforts to meet the needs of the world’s poorest, driving funding, attention and programming on a range of global issues such as maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS and primary education.

The Millennium Development Goals are set to come to an end in 2015 and discussions are underway as to what a new development framework for the international community might look like, the so-called ‘post-2015 development agenda’.

The unique needs and circumstances of adolescent girls were overlooked in the Millennium Development Goals. There is, however, increasing recognition that their needs and rights must be at the heart of any new development framework. The continued existence of child, early and forced marriage is a symptom of this historic lack of attention to the welfare of adolescent girls.

The road to a new development agenda: the post-2015 process

The process for identifying the shape and priorities for the post-2015 development agenda is made up of two distinct tracks: one is led by the UN Secretary-General; the other is led by UN General Assembly (UNGA) Member States and is focused on devising a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The UN Secretary-General process has involved a wide range of thematic, national and global consultations and meetings. Recommendations made to date by the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the post-2015 Development Agenda and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, have emphasised the importance of ending child, early and forced marriage in any new goal to empower girls and women and achieve gender equality.

Child marriage has hindered the achievement of gender equality in the MDGs.

Photo credit: www.un.org/milleniumgoals/

The UNGA process was born out of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20, held in 2012, which aimed to develop a global framework to reduce poverty, while preserving the environment. It marked the beginning of global discussions around future SDGs, which aim to address the three dimensions of sustainable development (social, environmental, economic) in a balanced way. There is broad agreement that the SDG and post-2015 processes should be closely linked and ultimately converge in one global development agenda beyond 2015 with sustainable development at its core.

A 30 member Open Working Group (OWG) of the General Assembly was established in January 2013 and is tasked with preparing a proposal on the SDGs. The Open Working Group comprises of 70 Member States from the 5 UN regional groups. Each of the 30 seats of the Open Working Group is shared by 1 to 4 countries from the same UN regional group. It is the responsibility of each grouping to decide how they will be represented during each of the meetings. Representatives of Member States without a seat in the Open Working Group can still participate at sessions.

Starting in February 2014, and before each one-week session (13 in total between January – July 2014), the co-chairs of the Open Working Group (Kenya and Hungary) have released a ‘focus area’ document, which sets out possible goals and targets. On 2 June, a ‘zero draft’ proposing goals and targets was released. There are currently 17 goals, and under each goal there are between 6 – 12 targets.

Child, early and forced marriage in the Open Working Group on the Sustainable Development Goals

Child, early and forced marriage was first included in the focus area document released in March 2014, when Pakistan proposed a target to end child, early and forced marriage by 2030 at the 10th Open Working Group session. This proposal was supported by 19 other Member States.

The working document released prior to the 11th session in May, included a target to end child, early and forced marriage by 2030 under focus area 5 on gender and women’s empowerment.

The zero draft has expanded the target to ‘eliminate all harmful practices, including child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilations’ and the 2030 timeframe has been removed.

OWG members that have supported the inclusion of child, early and forced marriage as a target:

  • Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Kazakhstan, Montenegro, Nauru, Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, USA, Zambia and Zimbabwe

Non-OWG members that have shown support for a target on the issue:

  • Angola, Austria, Botswana, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Malawi, Malta, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Portugal, South Africa, Swaziland and Sweden

What next? Devising goals and targets for the post-2015 framework

One session of the Open Working Group remains (14-18 July) during which the proposed goals and accompanying targets will be discussed in further detail. Following this the co-chairs will prepare a final ‘SDG report’ which will be presented to the General Assembly in September 2014. The Secretary-General will then present his synthesis report, bringing together the Open Working Group report and other relevant SDG/post-2015 reports, by the end of 2014.

It is presently understood that intergovernmental negotiations on post-2015 goals and targets will most likely take place between January and July 2015 (the shape and format of the negotiations remains to be decided), with the final set of goals and targets slated to be presented in September 2015 at a “SDG/post-2015 Summit”.

Are you a Girls Not Brides member or other civil society organisation interested in engaging on the issue of child, early and forced marriage in the post-2015 development agenda? Would you like to find out more? Contact the Girls Not Brides team.