The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is the principal global policy-making body dedicated to gender equality and the advancement of women. At the conclusion of this year’s CSW, the 57th annual meeting of its kind, governments agreed on an outcome document that included strong language on gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s sexual and reproductive health. The agreed conclusions also featured a call on States to “end the practice of child, early and forced marriage”.
The priority theme for this year’s CSW was the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls. Child marriage is a case in point and is a practice that often has violent consequences for girls. Child brides, for example, are more likely to report being beaten by their husbands and forced to have sex than girls who marry later.
All too often, child marriage is forgiven because it is deemed as tradition, permitted by religion or a part of a society’s culture. As Graça Machel, a member of The Elders and co-founder of Girls Not Brides has said, however, we have to take a stand against practices that cause girls harm and which do not represent our cultural values: “Culture is the best of the values that we as human beings cherish. What we need to challenge are the traditions and practices that have developed over time that are harmful to girls and women and which do not represent our values.”
Crucially, after many heated discussions, the agreed conclusions echoed this perspective and the agreed conclusions called for States to “refrain from invoking any custom, tradition or religious consideration” to avoid their obligations to protect women and girls from violence.
The outcome document also called on States to review, enact and strictly enforce laws on the minimum age for marriage and generate social support for enforcing these laws in order to end the practice of child, early and forced marriage.
Child marriage was the focus of a number of side events at CSW, including a well-attended panel discussion on the issue. Girls Not Brides Global Coordinator Lakshmi Sundaram and representatives of members World Vision and World YWCA joined the Executive Directors of UNFPA and UN Women, to make the case that ending child marriage needs to be integral to the global effort to end violence against women and girls.
In the time it has taken to read this article 25 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