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6 reasons why we made huge progress on child marriage in 2015

Photo credit: Graham Crouch / Girls Not Brides

As the year comes to an end, we take time to reflect on the achievements made by the movement to end child marriage in 2015 – and what is left to do.

1) The Global Goals include a target to end child marriage by 2030

The global target that Girls Not Brides members have been working towards for the past three years was adopted by 193 governments earlier in September. Target number 5.3 of the Global Goals for Sustainable Development calls on countries to end child, early and forced marriage by the year 2030.

This is a significant step forward for several reasons.

  • The Global Goals provide a roadmap for development for the next 15 years, and countries will have to report on progress toward achieving the targets.
  • The inclusion of the target is recognition that child marriage is a core development and human rights issue and that we won’t achieve a safer, healthier and more prosperous world without ending it.
  • Progress on child marriage will galvanise efforts to resolve other pressing issues, from poverty and maternal and child health, to education and gender equality.
  • The target provides civil society with a critical tool to argue for more concrete action at the country level.

2) The UN Human Rights Council adopted first substantive resolution on child marriage

The Human Rights Council adopted its first substantive resolution by consensus, which recognised child marriage as a human rights violation and called for more efforts to end this practice.

85 governments showed their commitment to this issue by co-sponsoring the resolution, which called on States to work with civil society to develop and implement holistic, comprehensive and coordinated responses to child marriage and review progress at the Human Rights Council in March 2017.

The resolution is an important tool for civil society to demonstrate that child marriage is a critical human rights issue that must be addressed.

3) National initiatives & strategies on child marriage in a growing number of countries

Change did not just happen at the international level. An increasing number of countries have recognised the need to move from a project-based approach to child marriage towards the development of comprehensive, national strategies.

By the end of the year, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mozambique, Nepal, Uganda, and Zambia had finalised strategies, initiatives or action plans on child marriage, while Egypt and Ethiopia continued to implement their existing strategies.

There has also been increasing cross-country reflection about lessons learned from national initiatives to end child marriage, for example at the Girls Not Brides Global Member Meeting in May 2015, or at the Africa Girl Summit in November 2015.

4) Countries acted on commitments to increase the age of marriage to 18

2015 saw a number of countries taking steps to improve their legal framework, one of the critical measures to address child marriage, by banning marriage under the age of 18.

  • In February, Malawi adopted the Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Bill, raising the minimum age of marriage to 18 years. However, the new provisions cannot overwrite the Constitution, which stipulates that girls and boys aged 15 to 18 may marry with parental consent.
  • In March, Chad adopted a law that increased the age of marriage from 15 to 18 years.
  • In Latin America, a region where nearly 1 in 3 girls marry before their 18th birthday, change is on the way too. In November, Guatemala raised the age of marriage from 14 to 18 years for girls. However, a clause still allows 16 year old girls to marry with a judge’s permission in some circumstances.
  • In December, the Irish government announced plans to bring forward legislation to abolish a legal exemption which allows a court to permit marriages under the age of 18, bringing its laws in line with international human rights standards.

Still, we cannot rest on our laurels. Inconsistencies and legal loopholes remain in legislation in many countries. Despite progress, some have risked back-tracking.

  • In June, in Indonesia, a country with one of the largest numbers of child brides in the world, the Constitutional Court rejected a petition which called for the minimum age of marriage for girls to be raised to 18 years.
  • In Bangladesh, civil society mobilised against a government proposal, which would make it legal for 16-year-old girls to marry. 

5) The first African Girls’ Summit put child marriage on Africa’s development agenda

At the end of November, the African Union and the Government of Zambia held the first-ever African Girls’ Summit on Ending Child Marriage bringing together governments, civil society, youth, UN agencies and dignitaries from across Africa, recognising child marriage as a key priority for Africa’s development agenda.

The African Union campaign to end child marriage in Africa, so far launched in 9 countries, was extended for another two years, while African governments adopted an African Common Position on Child Marriage.

6) More funding in place – but more needed

We can’t end child marriage without investing time, capacity and money. Luckily, 2015 saw a number of governments commit to funding efforts to end child marriage.

  • Earlier this year, the Government of Canada announced a $8 million envelope over two years, through the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives, to support grassroots civil society organisations working on this issue.
  • In September, the Dutch government also announced €290 million for non-governmental organisations working on sexual and reproductive health and rights. Out of the 12 organisations and/or alliances selected, four will focus exclusively on child marriage.

However, more funding will be needed in 2016 and beyond, in particular to ensure the effective implementation of national strategies and support grassroots organisations working on child marriage.

What next?

2015 was a promising year. Governments not only strengthened their commitments to end child marriage on the international stage, they have also begun to develop more comprehensive policies and strategies in their countries.

It is our role, as civil society, to make sure that momentum continues to be translated into action. 

What does it mean in practice?

  • The Global Goals for Sustainable Development and its target 5.3 must be implemented at the country level, with concrete indicators to measure progress.
  • Governments must prioritise child marriage by developing, funding and implementing national strategies in collaboration with civil society and ensure they are integrated into related strategies.
  • We must come up with solutions to prevent child marriage in conflict and humanitarian crises, be it as a result of the Syrian conflict or natural disasters such as earthquakes and droughts, and support girls who are married in these situations.

In 2016, let’s make sure that 2015’s promising advances are not empty promises but translate into real change for girls. Are you with us?