Kombian walks towards the panel, her head down. She takes her seat and picks up the microphone. The conference room falls silent at her voice. She retells how her mother used to lock her and her siblings in their house to prevent them from leaving, but despite the absence of food to see or smell, her stomach would still growl fiercely.
Poverty and hunger had pushed Kombian’s mother to marry her as a child, but she would not accept it. She left home and walked for three days until she found shelter. Now, at 23, she speaks to girls about the importance of education, their rights and well-being, cautioning them about the perils of child marriage.
Kombian’s story is not an isolated one. Every year 15 million girls around the world are married before they reach 18, curtailing their rights and opportunities.
Parliamentarians are critical allies to address child marriage
If we are to address child marriage in an effective and holistic way, we all need to assume our role to support girls like Kombian.
Parliamentarians play a key role in this effort: as leaders, lawmakers and in their oversight capacity. They are elected by the people to become their voice and champion their rights. They ensure that legislation reflects the needs of their constituencies by reviewing it and, when necessary, amending obsolete laws.
They can adopt legislation that sets the minimum age of marriage at 18, and allocate enough funds to programmes aimed at keeping girls in school, protecting them from violence, and encouraging their participation in the community.
Finally, they supervise the Ministries who administer such programmes and hold them to account through parliamentary questions and requests to debrief Parliament. It critical that we bring them on board as allies in this effort.
The Global Parliamentary Campaign to End Child, Early and Forced Marriage
As a global network of 1,300 legislators in 143 countries, Parliamentarians for Global Action is in a unique position to encourage and support parliamentarians’ efforts to end child marriage.
That is why, in 2014, we launched a Global Parliamentary Campaign to End Child, Early and Forced Marriage (CEFM) to raise parliamentarians’ awareness of the issue, and build political will to uphold, through laws, the human rights of girls and women.
We mobilised our network in support of a Global Parliamentary Declaration to End Child, Early and Forced Marriage, which urged Members of Parliament (MPs) to acknowledge child marriage as a violation of human rights, and advocated for the inclusion of target 5.3 to end child marriage under Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda.
Over half of the network supported the Declaration! It was signed by 773 MPs from 79 countries, committing to work on and monitor progress towards the achievement of SDG target 5.3.
Parliamentarians in action against child marriage
It is also important to build the capacity of individual MPs. In the past two years, we have held seminars to support parliamentarians from Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Zimbabwe to address child marriage in their country, with positive results.
In Zimbabwe, for example, Hon. Jessie Majome, MP, met with the then Minister of Justice, presented PGA’s Statement of Commitment on Combatting Child, Early and Forced Marriage, and started drafting a bill to harmonise all Acts with the Constitution, which sets the minimum age of marriage at 18 years.
Hon. Majome also founded PGA’s National Group in Parliament, creating a Subcommittee on Gender and Population to mobilise her colleagues to end child marriage and to influence her government to design a national strategy.
Progress in Ghana
At our 2014 workshop in Ghana, discussions among MPs, civil society and the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection helped establish a Child Marriage Unit to improve the response and coordination among agencies on the topic. It also prompted the Ministry to begin consultations on a national strategic framework to end child marriage, due to be launched later this year.
In early March, MPs from Ghana, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zimbabwe adopted a Statement of Commitment 2016, which recognises that ending child, early and forced marriage is a prerequisite to more equal, peaceful and democratic societies, as well as for the achievement of the SDGs by 2030 and the African Union Agenda 2063.
We hope that this Statement, along with targeted actions - including collaborating with Girls Not Brides and its members on the ground - and access to a network of regional peer MPs working on this issue, strengthens the political will at the national level to end child, early and forced marriage.
We will continue supporting parliamentary efforts to ensure that girls and women are not left behind.
In the time it has taken to read this article 47 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
Mónica Adame is the Director of the Gender, Equality and Population Programme at Parliamentarians for Global Action (PGA). She is based in New York and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Parliamentarians for Global Action is a non-governmental, non-partisan international network of 1,300 legislators in 143 elected parliaments, that informs and mobilises Parliamentarians to advocate for human rights and the rule of law, democracy, human security, non-discrimination and gender equality. For more information about PGA, please visit: www.pgaction.org