At the end of September, the United Nations will formally adopt the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the goals and targets that will shape international development priorities for the next 15 years. The SDGs have the potential to change the face of the world within the next generation. It is critical that child marriage, a practice which affects 15 million girls a year with devastating consequences for their health, education and wellbeing, is addressed within the new framework.
That is why we are thrilled that the proposed SDG framework includes a target to end child, early and forced marriage. The final outcome document “Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda For Global Action”, which was made public at the beginning of August and will be presented at the Summit in September, proposes target 5.3, ‘eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilations’, under goal 5 ‘Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’.
This is a welcome development. For months, Girls Not Brides members have called for the inclusion of a target to end child, early and forced marriage in the new framework. A target would not only help monitor progress on reducing child marriage globally, it would help catalyse efforts towards achieving a number of the proposed goals on poverty, nutrition, economic growth and reduction of inequality – especially gender inequality.
Yet we must remain vigilant. While there is broad agreement that the proposed goals and targets will not change, we must continue to encourage governments to speak out in support of the child marriage target until it is adopted.
Choosing the right indicators will be critical to success too. The needs of adolescent girls, whose voices and experiences were ignored in the Millennium Development Goals, must be reflected in the indicators that will measure progress made on the SDGs. Otherwise, we risk leaving girls behind once more.
The post-2015 process so far
- The Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) concluded its work last July when it proposed 17 goals and 169 targets to comprise the SDGs. According to a September 2014 UN General Assembly resolution, the OWG’s proposal will form the main basis for integrating the SDGs into the post-2015 development framework.
- Intergovernmental negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda began this January and ended in July.
- Importantly, there is broad agreement amongst governments that the goals and targets proposed by the OWG will not change. This is welcome news, as it means that target 5.3 proposed by the OWG ‘eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilations’ will stay as it is.
- Child marriage target is included in the draft outcome document. The final SDGs outcome document Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda For Global Action was released at the start of August. The child marriage target is unchanged in the outcome document.
Adopting the SDGs
Inter-governmental negotiations concluded in July. The outcome document will be adopted at a high-level summit which will take place in New York on 25-27 September.
Given the timing of the summit, the UN General Assembly high-level week will take place a week later than usual, beginning 28th September.
Measuring success of the SDGs
The Inter-agency and Expert Group on the Sustainable Development Goals Indicators (IAEG-SDGs), composed of member states and including regional and international agencies as observers, has been tasked with developing a global indicator framework for the SDGs. The group first met in June 2015 when they set up a process for the development of the framework.
It was emphasised during this meeting that no target should be left without an indicator. Earlier in the year the child marriage indicator ‘percentage of women aged 20-24 who were married or in a union before age 18 (i.e. child marriage)’ was given the top AAA rating (for being feasible, suitable and relevant) by the United Nations Statistical Commission. At that time, no indicator for female genital mutilations was proposed. However, in the updated version of the list of proposals, the IAEG-SDGs has included an indicator for female genital mutilations.
The Girl Declaration’s joint advocacy group, comprised of Girls Not Brides and partner organisations, proposed core minimum indicators which account for the needs of adolescent girls, to decision makers.
In the time it has taken to read this article 44 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 2 seconds
Girls Not Brides
Ommera Zafar is Policy and Advocacy Officer at Girls Not Brides.