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Ending child marriage: more needs to be done – ICPD Beyond 2014 Report

While the past 20 years have seen remarkable progress in maternal health, girls’ education and sexual and reproductive health, little progress has been made on child marriage, reveals UNFPA in latest report.

The report, “ICPD Beyond 2014”, is part of a review process of the International Conference on Population Development’s Programme of Action, which was adopted in 1994 and set out to promote gender equality and women and girls’ rights to sexual and reproductive health.

Fewer women die during pregnancy or childbirth now than 20 years ago, more women and girls have access to quality education, and fewer adolescent girls are having babies.

Yet adolescent girls are largely left out of development gains. They remain one of the most marginalised groups, with little access to sexual and reproductive health services, with millions of girls vulnerable to child marriage.

Ending child marriage: minimal progress since 1994

Despite tangible progress in many areas, too many countries have seen “minimal progress since 1994” in tackling child marriage.

Stressing the need for urgent action, the report makes the following key points on child marriage:

  • Child, early and forced marriage remains common in many countries and most regions worldwide, even where it is illegal. If current trends continue, by 2020 approximately 142 million girls will be married before their 18th birthday.
  • Despite a decrease in teenage pregnancies, more than 15 million girls aged 15 to 19 give birth every year. The majority of these pregnancies take place within marriage, and a significant number results from non-consensual sex.
  • Child marriage has clear negative links to health outcomes, poverty, education and sexual and reproductive health and rights.

To end child marriage, invest in adolescent girls

To sustain development gains and continue making progress for all, governments must pass and enforce laws that protect adolescent girls.

“We must do our part to protect adolescent girls’ right to access sexual and reproductive health services”, explained Dr Osotimehin, Executive Director of UNFPA.

We must do our part to protect adolescent girls’ right to access sexual and reproductive health services.

Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin

“Sexual and reproductive health and rights are fundamental to achieving individual well-being, lower population growth, and sustained economic growth. To ensure women have a stake in their future, governments must enforce the rights of adolescent girls.”

Critically, the report urges States to preserve the dignity and the rights of women and girls by eliminating child, early and forced marriages.

It also calls for all countries to adopt and enforce laws that criminalise marriage below the age of 18, to create awareness around the harmful health and life consequences of early marriages, and to develop national targets and incentives to eliminate this practice within a generation.

Child marriage & the ICPD Programme of Action

The International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) was a landmark for women’s rights. It marked a shift in approach in population and development issues, asserting universal access to reproductive and sexual health and rights and the empowerment of women and girls as necessary preconditions to sustainable development.

The ICPD Programme of Action, signed by nearly 200 governments, called for an end to child marriage by enforcing minimum age of marriage laws and raising the minimum age of marriage where necessary.

It stressed that marriage must be entered into with “the full and free consent of the intending spouses.”

ICPD Beyond 2014: What next?   

20 years after the initial adoption of the ICPD Programme of Action, this report is part of a comprehensive review process that will identify progress, achievements and challenges in implementing the Programme of Action, including its commitments to women and girls’ rights.

The ICPD review process will be an important opportunity to include child marriage as a priority issue in the ICPD + 20 agenda.