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5 signs we made progress towards ending child marriage in 2016

Child Bride Sajita Tamang (right), aged 17 now, photographed with other girl brides at a health centre in Daman Town, Makawanphur District, Nepal, Thursday 21 April, 2016. Sajita was married at 14 and is now separated from her abusive husband and has a 17 month old baby. | Photo credit: Jane Mingay/Girls Not Brides

A lot happened in 2016. Let’s take a look at some of the progress made towards ending child marriage in the last 12 months:

1/ New and renewed global commitments to end child marriage

  • In November, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on child, early and forced marriage, which was introduced by Canada and Zambia and co-sponsored by 108 countries. The resolution seeks to increase global momentum toward achieving target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals to end child marriage by 2030.

2/ More attention to ending child marriage at the regional level

  • Eight countries launched the African Union Campaign to End Child Marriage in 2016 – Ghana, Eritrea, The Gambia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Cameroon Nigeria, and Liberia – bringing the total of countries having launched the campaign to 18. Read what civil society says should happen next.
  • The Southern African Development Community adopted the first-ever Model Law on Eradicating Child Marriage and Protecting Children Already in Marriage in June. The law calls for strengthening and harmonising legislation in Southern Africa. Inspired by this, the East African Community is now taking steps to develop a regional bill on sexual and reproductive health and rights, which will have a focus on child marriage.
  • In September, the South Asian Initiative to End Violence Against Children (SAIEVAC) held a regional meeting in Nepal on how to use the law to promote accountability to end child marriage in South Asia.
  • In December, the Organisation of American States (OAS) held its first meeting on child marriage in the Americas, bringing much-needed visibility on the only continent where child marriage rates have not fallen over the past three decades. Watch the full meeting here.

3/ New national strategies aim to tackle child marriage in high-prevalence countries…

Three countries adopted a national strategy or action plan to tackle child marriage and support married girls:

  • In March, Zambia adopted a five-year national action plan to end child marriage. Zambian civil society, including the Zambia Ending Child Marriage Network, was instrumental in initiating the development of the strategy.
  • In April, Mozambique officially launched the National Strategy to Prevent and Combat Child Marriage, an eight-pillar strategy that was jointly developed with Girls Not Brides Mozambique after community consultations across the country.
  • In June, Chad launched a roadmap to end child marriage and female genital mutilation.

…as well as donor countries

  • In March, the United States State Department released the Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls, a comprehensive interagency effort to improve the lives of adolescent girls worldwide, from their health and education to their ability to choose if, when and whom they marry.

4/ Countries strengthened their laws and policies to tackle child marriage.

  • In January, two former child brides from Zimbabwe won a Supreme Court case to make child marriage illegal and unconstitutional.
  • Over the summer, Gambia’s President called for an immediate ban on child marriage and subsequently raised the age of marriage to 18. The government also introduced tougher sanctions against those who arranged or took part in a child marriage.
  • In a landmark decision in July, the High Court of Tanzania ruled that current age of marriage laws were discriminatory towards girls and should be revised to set 18 years as the new minimum. Tanzania also introduced tougher punishment for men who marry schoolgirls or get them pregnant.
  • In December, the Prime Minister of Lebanon announced plans to repeal article 522 of the Penal Code. The article currently allows rapists to avoid prosecution if they marry their victim.
  • In Mexico, a growing number of states have raised the age of marriage to 18, in alignment with federal legislation, including: Mexico City, Colima, Sinaloa, Zacatecas, and Hidalgo.
  • In the United States, the state of Virginia increased the minimum age of marriage to 18 this summer. Similar bills were introduced in Maryland and New York, while in New Jersey, a bill is awaiting approval in the state Senate.

5/ Increased funding for grassroots organisations to end child marriage

  • AmplifyChange launched a grant dedicated to funding grassroots organisations working to end child marriage. Although they carry out crucial work to change mentalities, provide services and support girls, grassroots organisations still receive too little funding.
  • Donor governments such as Canada, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, as well as the European Union and the United States, have also continued to fund efforts to end child marriage.

In 2017 and beyond

As a movement we’ve achieved a great deal this year. Now we need to continue to build on our successes and ensure that:

  1. Governments are held accountable for their international, regional and national commitments to end child marriage.
  2. Policies, programmes and plans to end child marriage and support married girls are developed, implemented and funded.
  3. The movement to end child marriage grows and is strengthened further including by involving new actors, and encouraging partnerships.
  4. Successes are recognised and shared.
  5. All sectors – education, health, justice, and others –integrate a focus on child marriage in their work.
  6. Policy-makers and practitioners learn from what works – and what doesn’t.
  7. Funding towards efforts to end child marriage and support married girls increases, particularly for grassroots organisations.

There is still much work ahead if we want to see a better future for the 15 million girls married every year. It is only by working in partnership that we will be able to achieve our collective vision: a world where girls can be girls, not brides.