This week, I am excited to celebrate Girls Not Brides reaching 500 members across 75 countries.
In the four years since the Global Partnership to End Child Marriage was launched, the landscape around child marriage has changed drastically.
This milestone gives us a chance to reflect on the role of our vibrant civil society partnership in driving change around the world, and to highlight the progress that can be made when a wide range of actors – from civil society organisations and governments to donors, UN agencies, communities and girls themselves – work together to turn a once-taboo topic into an international priority.
Child marriage on the international and regional agendas
Girls Not Brides members around the world have been calling on their governments to make commitments to address child marriage as both a development and human rights priority. Many of these governments have been stepping up: while child marriage was absent from the Millennium Development Goals, there is now a target to end child, early and forced marriage (5.3) in the draft Sustainable Development Goals.
And in June, the Human Rights Council unanimously passed the first substantive resolution on child marriage, which was co-sponsored by more than 85 countries. Girls Not Brides helped to facilitate the consultations with civil society, leading to stronger recommendations on girls’ sexuality and child marriage in humanitarian conflicts.
Both the African Union and the South Asian Association for Regional Collaboration have also taken on child marriage, through Africa-wide two-year campaign and a Regional Action Plan to End Child Marriage in South Asia, respectively. And, the Commonwealth recently adopted the Kigali Declaration to increase coordination between National Human Rights Institutions to address child marriage, and to link up these institutions with civil society.
A coordinated response to child marriage in high-prevalence countries
It is also tremendously exciting to see the progress being made to craft national responses to child marriage. From Ethiopia to Zambia, Egypt to Nepal, governments are working with civil society, UN agencies, and local communities to develop national strategies. In many countries, Girls Not Brides National Partnerships are the leading civil society partners for the government, coordinating input and ensuring buy-in from local communities.
Although this work is still new, there are already a number of lessons that we can learn from these national strategies.
We have a lot to be proud of, but there is still so much more work to do. Governments need to live up to their lofty global and regional commitments, and make ending child marriage a priority in practice. Nascent national strategies need to be resourced and implemented effectively.
It is crucial that governments make room for civil society organisations to actively contribute to these initiatives. Their years of experience provide valuable insights into what actually works and will help create the national movements needed for long-term change. And the civil society organisations that are working directly with girls, families and communities need to receive the funding they require to continue to plant the seeds for long-term change.
Recently, the Government of Canada committed $10 million to support child marriage programmes. Not only do we need to see more donor governments integrate child marriage into their development budget, we also need to see high-prevalence countries allocate resources – both human and financial – to roll out national strategies and translate commitments into action.
Involving everyone will be critical to success
Girls Not Brides was created with the premise that no organisation can end child marriage alone. The issue is too complex, too multi-faceted for a simple fix.
That’s why Girls Not Brides members work across sectors, from health and human rights to education and humanitarian response, and range from small grassroots actors to large international organisations. That’s also why we partner with governments, UN agencies and donors, whose involvement is crucial to scale our impact and reach every girl. And that’s why it’s important to work with local communities, for change needs to happen in the lives of girls.
UNICEF estimates that, by 2050, 1 billion women will have been married as children. Ending child marriage is a daunting task but there’s never been a better time to redouble efforts. In the last four years, we have achieved great things together. Let’s keep the momentum alive!
A message from Mrs Graça Machel
Girls Not Brides members: Working hand in hand to end child marriage
Do you want to get involved?
In the time it has taken to read this article 46 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
Girls Not Brides
Lakshmi Sundaram is the Executive Director of Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage.