Nearly one hundred young leaders from 22 countries came together in Malaysia last month to discuss how their generation could end child marriage.
Convened by the World Youth Foundation, these young leaders adopted the Melaka Youth Declaration on a Global Youth Partnership to End Child Marriage, as well as an Action Plan outlining the concrete activities they will conduct over the next few months.
We spoke to one of the participants to find out why this declaration matters, and how other youth activists can use it to bring about change.
What was the International Conference on Child Marriage about?
The conference was about coming together as young people to come up with solutions to end child marriages at a global scale. Young people from 22 countries shared their experiences as how they are differently affected by child marriages and how we can all work together as youths to bring about change.
Why does this declaration matter? How can we ensure that it becomes more than just words on paper?
This declaration matters because it was drafted across all cultural, religious and political divides by young people for young people. But to be effective, it has to be implemented in all affected countries. This can only happen if UN agencies and organisations tackling child marriages provide support systems for all youths who wish to implement the declaration.
Young people can also implement the declaration, as most of the action plan activities are cost free. It is possible, as we have done it! The Voice of Africa recently worked with enthusiastic young volunteers to raise awareness of child marriages and we reached over 17,000 students in 16 days.
We have played our part and so can every young person.
How can young people use the declaration to push efforts to end child marriage in their countries and communities?
This declaration speaks to every young person with the desire to make a difference. In most communities, there is ignorance of child marriage, its causes, and its consequences, but this declaration has the power to open a dialogue between students, families and community leaders -ultimately working together for the greater benefit of the child.
What next for the youth movement to end child marriage?
There is a long way to go and our efforts to end child marriages are far from over. The youth movement still has to echo this message and use available platforms to bring change. We need more platforms and opportunities for young people to speak out and be the change we want to see. As we push for formal education we also need to provide informal and inter-generational education for children and adults to communicate for change together.
The youth movement still has to echo this message and use available platforms to bring change.
What is your message to global leaders about the role that youth plays in addressing child marriage?
As young people, we make up the greatest population and we should be involved in issues that affect us. We need to strengthen and increase education opportunities for girls in order to address child marriage.
Do not under-estimate the power of a united youth standing up for what they believe in!
We have particular influence over our peers as educators and one should not under estimate the power of a united youth standing up for what they believe in. As youths, we know our peers and those at risk and we are in a better position to come up with viable solutions to the problem.
We cannot achieve the Sustainable Development Goals alone and we encourage global leaders to stand in solidarity with young people to end child marriage!
In the time it has taken to read this article 37 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
Mpho Elizabeth Mpofu
Voice of Africa
Mpho Elizabeth Mpofu is the founder and Executive Director of the Voice of Africa, an organisation that provides youth counselling services to African youths in Zimbabwe and Botswana so they can lead a dignified, purpose-filled life. Mpho is a youth advocate. She studied criminal justice at the University of Botswana.