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2017 in review: 6 signs we made progress towards ending child marriage

2017 was a difficult year for many around the world. But there are lots of things to feel hopeful about. Here are six areas where we have made progress towards ending child marriage.

#1 Regional momentum to address child marriage across Africa continued to grow

West and Central Africa has the highest child marriage rates in the world, which is why it was great to see governments, civil society, youth activists and religious leaders from over 20 countries come together for the High-Level Meeting to end child marriage in October.

The first of its kind in the region, the meeting helped build political momentum and drive consensus towards taking tangible, measurable action to end child marriage.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) adopted a Strategic Framework to strengthen national child protection systems and protect children against violence. The framework counts child marriage as one of five priority areas for action. This is the first time child marriage is prominently featured in a critical ECOWAS policy document!

The African Union campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa maintained child marriage high on the agenda throughout the region, with the appointment of President Lungu of Zambia as the AU champion for ending child marriage.

Kenya, Benin and Guinea also launched the AU campaign, bringing the total number of countries which have launched it to 21.

#2 Latin America intensified its efforts to address child marriage

For the first time, the Organization of American States passed a resolution committing them to address child marriage through the Inter-American Commission of Women. This followed a communiqué from the Secretary General, Luis Almagro, urging member states to take urgent action to address child marriage.

Photo credit: The Mariposa Foundation.

The United Nations launched a regional inter-agency programme to end child marriage in Latin America, which covers Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico.

A number of Latin American countries also strengthened their legislation to make marriage before the age of 18 illegal.

#3 Global institutions continued to address child marriage

Several governments called for increased efforts to address child marriage at the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, which reviewed progress made towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

For the first time, the Human Rights Council recognised the need to address child marriage in humanitarian contexts in a resolution led by The Netherlands and Sierra Leone, and co-sponsored by over 80 countries.

This is a welcome development as conflicts and natural disasters are forcing more and more families into displacement, leading them to marry off their daughters to survive.

#4 Child marriage became a policy priority for more and more governments

Fourteen more countries have started developing national strategies, actions plans or initiatives to address child marriage: Lebanon, Jordan, Bangladesh, Benin, Cameroon, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mali, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Sudan and Zimbabwe.

Photo credit: A young girl pictured on International Women’s Day in Helmand, Afghanistan / Mette Bastholm/ Helmand PRT/ Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs/ Department for International Development 2012

Photo credit: Mette Bastholm/ Helmand PRT/ Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs/ Department for International Development

In March, Afghanistan launched a national action plan on child marriage. In May, Ghana launched its costed National Strategic Framework for 2017-2026.

#5 Countries tightened their laws

  • Malawi officially banned child marriage, amending its Constitution to reflect legislation adopted in 2015 that raised the age of marriage to 18 years.
  • In Latin America, a number of governments raised the minimum age of marriage to 18 without exceptions: the Dominican Republic, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. In Mexico, 24 out of 33 states have now updated their legislation in line with federal laws.
  • In Europe, Germany and The Netherlands both raised the age of marriage to 18 while in the United States, a number of states have set the age of marriage at 18, though none have done so without exceptions.
  • In India, the Supreme Court ruled that sex with a wife under the age of 18 constitutes rape. The verdict closes a legal loophole which made sex with anyone under 18 punishable, except for child brides.

But not everything is rosy

  • In Bangladesh, the newly adopted Child Marriage Restraint Act (CMRA) 2017 allows marriage for girls under 18 under “special circumstances”, a provision which sparked widespread concern among civil society.
  • In Tanzania, the President announced that teen mothers should not be allowed to return to school – a policy that would dramatically affect child brides’ ability to thrive.
  • In Iraq, a proposed amendment to the Personal Status Law would allow girls as young as 9 years old to marry.
  • In Turkey, President Erdogan signed the so-called “mufti law”, which allows state-approved clerics to conduct marriage ceremonies. This is problematic because imams and muftis have no process for tracking marriages or verifying a girl’s age.

#6 Civil society collectively campaigned to address child marriage

In Benin, a youth platform is leading the way in supporting the government’s campaign “Zero Tolerance” to violence against children and child marriage.

Young people protesting child marriage in Cotonou, Benin

Young people mobilising for the launch of Benin’s Tolerance Zero campaign in June 2016. Photo credit: UNICEF Benin

In India, civil society is coming together in a number of states to form coalitions to address child marriage.

In Malawi, the newly formed Girls Not Brides National Partnership played a key role in making the child marriage ban a constitutional provision and including child marriage in the new strategy on women and adolescent girls.

In Mozambique, Girls Not Brides Mozambique is working with different ministries to implement the national strategy to end child marriage.

In Nepal, the Girls Not Brides National Partnership helped to develop and implement the costed action plan to address child marriage, despite recent floods.

Photo credit: Unchained At Last.

In the United States, Girls Not Brides USA – and in particular Unchained At Last, Tahirih Justice Centre and Human Rights Watch – have been campaigning to raise the age of marriage to 18 without exceptions across the country, including a successful campaign in the state of New York to raise the legal age of marriage from 14 years.

In Pakistan, civil society, parliamentarians and a number of Girls Not Brides members have been pushing a draft bill through the national assembly which sets the age of marriage at 18.

An unexpected figure took to the catwalk at the HUM Bridal Couture Week. A girl in school uniform with bridal motifs highlighted the devastating trade-off that #childmarriage brings to millions of girls every year. When a girl marries, her education stops and she is often pressured into becoming a mother early and repeatedly. Her health and wellbeing suffer dramatically. Childbirth is the leading cause of death for girls aged 15-19 around the world, and child brides are more likely to experience sexual, physical and psychological violence than girls who marry after 18. This is a timely campaign as Pakistan’s Senate considers an amendment to #RaiseTheAge to 18 and #endchildmarriage in Pakistan. The #BridalUniform is a collaboration between industry powerhouse @alixeeshantheaterstudio and @UNWomen Pakistan _____________________________________________ #genderequality #educategirls #empowergirls #equalityforall #genderequality #girlsrights #pakistangenderequality #genderequalitypakistan #girlsnotbrides #pakistan #girlseducation #girlsempowerment #UNWomen #thebridaluniform #brides

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In Uganda, Girls Not Brides Uganda is helping local level governments adopt and implement the national strategy in several districts.

The issue of child marriage was on everyone’s lips in 2017. We are thrilled that momentum has not waned since the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals. Quite the opposite, momentum continues to grow in countries where child marriage happens the most – as well as more unlikely places. We look forward to building on this energy in 2018!

What were your highlights this year? Tweet us @GirlsNotBrides using #2017inreview and #endchildmarriage.