On Thursday 2 July, the United Nations Human Rights Council unanimously adopted a resolution co-sponsored by over 85 States to strengthen efforts to prevent and eliminate child, early and forced marriage, a practice that affects 15 million girls every year. The resolution is the first-ever substantive resolution on child marriage adopted by the Council.
It recognises child marriage as a violation of human rights “that prevents individuals from living their lives free from all forms of violence” and that has “wide ranging and adverse consequences on the enjoyment of human rights, such as the right to education, the right to the highest attainable standard of health, including sexual and reproductive health”. It also recognises child marriage as a “barrier to sustainable development” that “helps to perpetuate the cycle of poverty”.
Supported by a cross-regional group of 88 States, including from countries with high rates of child marriage, the resolution demonstrates global support for ending child marriage and making it a human rights and development priority in the post-2015 development framework.
Indeed, this resolution comes at a timely moment, just a few months before States adopt the Sustainable Development Goals, an ambitious framework that could transform the world by 2030. The proposed framework includes 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”.
It complements the resolution adopted at the UN General Assembly last year by bringing a human rights perspective to national efforts, which will be essential to protect girls from child marriage and support those who are already married.
Although it does not call for comprehensive sex education as a key component to prevent and end child marriage, which was a priority for many advocates, it goes further than last year’s General Assembly resolution by urging governments to promote and protect the human rights of all women and girls, including their right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality. It also advances on previous resolutions by taking into consideration child, early and forced marriage in humanitarian and fragile situations.
The resolution recognises the need for national action plans on child marriage, and encourages States to work with civil society to develop and implement a holistic, comprehensive and coordinated response to address child marriage and support married girls, which will be critical to the successful implementation of the SDGs and target 5.3.
Finally, the resolution requests the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to organise an expert workshop in March 2017 to “review and discuss the impact of existing strategies and initiatives to address child, early and forced marriages and make recommendations for further action by States and the international community”.
This concrete next step will be an opportunity to discuss practical tools to assist States in the implementation of their human rights obligation to address child marriage and support married girls.
Child marriage is a human rights violation
- Child, early and forced marriage is a global problem which cuts across countries, cultures, religious and ethnicities and affects approximately 15 million girls every year.
- Child marriage disempowers girls for life, depriving them of their agency, their right to health, education and a life free from violence.
- Child brides have little or no say in if, when and whom they marry. Once married, it is extremely difficult for girls to assert their needs to their usually older husbands.
- Child brides are often pressured into motherhood, putting them at risk of death or injury during childbirth. Girls who give birth before 18 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women aged 20-24.
- After marriage child brides usually drop out of school, if they were in school at all. Over 60% of child brides in developing countries have had no formal education.
- A girl who married before 18 is more likely to experience physical, sexual and psychological violence throughout her life.
Background on the resolution
- This year’s resolution was requested by a joint statement adopted last year at the Human Rights Council. It builds on the short, procedural resolution on child, early and forced marriage adopted in 2013 by recognising child marriage as a human rights and barrier to sustainable development.
- The resolution also incorporates recommendations from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)’s report on preventing and eliminating child marriage, to which many Girls Not Brides members contributed.
In the time it has taken to read this article 45 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