Throughout my time as a youth activist, I’ve felt a duty to be a voice for all the young girls who are afraid to speak out - girls as young as 12 who are victims of child marriage or at risk of marrying too young. I decided to bring their voices to national and international forums, to fight for a society free of child marriage.
Along with other young people like me, I was given a seat at the table at the Commission of Status of Women 2019 (CSW). We sat side by side with ministers, ambassadors and UN staff throughout the two-week event. With the support of these global leaders, we’re ready to own and shape the future.
Progress is possible. Together we can bring an end to child marriage, even in high prevalence countries. With the right mix of interventions, policies and collective action, change can happen. But young people need to be heard and taken seriously. We’re willing to volunteer our time, efforts and energy to push for an end to child marriage. We are the future leaders and parents, and our voice counts.
What’s next after the UN 63rd CSW ?
It’s time for action.
Child marriage is mostly a result of poverty, cultural practices or social norms. We need more interventions from the grassroots level up to the national and international level.
Progress is exciting, but it has not gone far enough. Solutions haven’t met the demands of a growing population of girls at risk of early marriage. More work still needs to be done, and partnerships such as the UNFPA-UNICEF Global Partnership to End Child Marriage and Girls Not Brides are examples of work that has impact, and must continue.
Most African countries have made child marriage illegal, but there is still room to change policies and laws in countries where it is legal. But policies and laws aren’t enough on their own. We need to leverage the efforts of governments to condemn child marriage. Campaigns to educate society on the harmful impacts of child marriage have been proven to work. We need to carry on this work whilst helping young girls at risk to stand up and claim their rights.
It’s time to listen to young people
Youth engagement is by no means the answer to the problem. However, when we value, invest in, and meaningfully engage young people, we can become the champions needed to influence parents, communities and policy makers.
To do this, we need to go beyond seeing youth as victims, or beneficiaries of programmes, and acknowledge that they have rights and a lot to contribute. If world leaders listen to young people, I am convinced that those girls I know who are too afraid to speak out will all one day be able to realise their potential.
In the time it has taken to read this article 28 girls under the age of 18 have been married
Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18
That is 23 girls every minute
Nearly 1 every 3 seconds
Petrider Paul is a youth advocate and girls' rights defender from Tanzania.