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End child marriage: five exciting things that happened at UNGA in 2017

Girls Not Brides champion Sonita Alizadeh, education activist and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai, and youth advocate Najla Hussein Mahmaad. Photo credit: Ford Foundation.

Three African Heads of State spent an hour talking about the need to end child marriage!

The Presidents of Malawi, Uganda and Zambia opened the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) by speaking passionately about the need to end child marriage in Africa by 2030, renewing their commitment to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

The President of Malawi said: “We cannot harvest the best potential unless we stop early marriage”.

The President of Zambia said: “Girls who marry young are often denied their rights. Let us end child marriage.” He also announced the development of a national child action plan to be launched in October 2017 at the cost of eleven million Zambian kwacha.

At the same meeting, the Egyptian Minister of Social Solidarity emphasised the need for secondary education, for births to be registered so that underage girls can’t be married, and for the support of religious leaders to help end child marriage.

Young people were leading the conversation on child marriage

Malala Yousafzai, education activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, used her voice to draw attention to child marriage, the progress made so far and how we can end it for good.

Malala joined Girls Not Brides for a conversation on child marriage and the Sustainable Development Goals, along with her father Ziauddin Yousafzai, World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva, and Malala Fund advocate Najla Hussein Mahmaad. The event was held by Girls Not Brides in partnership with the Ford, NoVo and Packard Foundations.

Najla Hussein Mahmaad is a youth advocate from Iraq. She  ran away – in her wedding dress! – at the age of 14 so she could go back to school and become a journalist.

Girls Not Brides champion, Sonita Alizadeh, also attended UNGA to tell world leaders to let girls be girls, and not brides.

Many other leaders also spoke up of the importance to end child marriage

The President of France, President Emmanuel Macron said that “educating young girls is fundamental because it helps us address early marriages” during a high-level event on financing education.

The President of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, said: “Keeping girls in school is one key way to end child marriage”.

Child marriage recognised as a cross-cutting issue

We were pleased to see child marriage included in many conversations at UNGA, including ones on education, health, violence against children, emergency relief and modern slavery.

Ending child marriage is not only an imperative on its own, it is critical to achieving at least eight of the Sustainable Development Goals. That is why it is vital that other sectors take up this issue.

More funding going towards women and girls’ groups and issues

The European Union and the United Nations launched the Spotlight Initiative, a new partnership to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls, including harmful practices such as child marriage. The initiative has an initial dedicated fund of €500 million.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation also announced $20 million over the next three years to strengthen women’s groups worldwide, recognising the importance of grassroots and women-led organisations.