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“Child marriage is not just a tragedy for girls: it’s a disaster for development” says UK Secretary of State for Development

“When a girl cannot decide for herself when to marry and have children, it’s not just a tragedy for her, it’s a disaster for development” Justine Greening, the UK Secretary for International Development, said ahead of International Women’s Day.

“It’s time to break the silence on early and forced marriage and take action” she asserted, stressing the need for concerted action to end child marriage, a harmful traditional practice that deprives 14 million girls a year of their potential.

Justine Greening was speaking at “Transform Her Future”, an event co-organised by Girls Not Brides, the Gender and Development Network, and Plan UK to shine a light on what is needed to end child marriage and female genital cutting.

Child marriage: “When girls reach adolescence, their world shrinks”

“Early and forced marriage remains one of the critical symptoms of the low status of girls and women in many societies, and of the day-to-day neglect of their rights,” explained Greening. “For many of us, as we grow up we realise there’s a whole world of opportunity out there – but for these girls, whatever may be the case for their brothers – when they reach adolescence their world shrinks.”

For child brides, marriage often means the end of their education; unable to complete their studies, they have little access to economic or professional opportunities. At the same time, child marriage often confines girls to the domestic sphere and puts them in a situation where they must become mothers and wives while still being children themselves.

Speaking with one voice against child marriage

Greening called for global concerted action to end child marriage: “the first step to tackling early and forced marriage is to make sure the international community is speaking with one voice.”

Greening reiterated the British government’s support for a standalone goal on gender equality in the post-2015 framework, a new development agenda for the international community, and for “end child marriage” to be an explicit target in the new framework.

Fulfilling our promise to girls: ending child marriage

Further research into what works to end child marriage is needed, noted Greening, in order to identify programmes that are effective and can be replicated on a larger scale: “We will build on what works, continuing existing pilots, scaling up where programmes are successful, and we will start new pilots to find more innovative solutions on what works”.

DFID, the UK Department for International Development, is working in partnership with the Government of Ethiopia to scale up Berhane Hewan, a successful pilot programme to end child marriage in the Amhara region, with the goal of reaching at least 200,000 adolescent girls and, ultimately, bringing an end to child marriage in the region by 2030.

Greening pointed out that while “[early and forced marriage] has generally been considered too difficult, too taboo, maybe too entrenched to focus on too much (…), as long as early and forced marriage exists, we have not fulfilled our promise to girls and women.”

You can read Justine Greening’s full speech here.