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G8 Foreign Ministers address child marriage: An important discussion, but action now needed

The recent G8 foreign ministers meeting included a discussion on child marriage as well as addressing child marriage in its joint statement. These words are powerful, but will they be followed-up with action?

High Level Attention

On 12 April 2012, foreign ministers from the US, the UK, France, Germany, Russia, Canada, Italy and Japan all said “No” to child marriage. At a time when issues such as the escalation of humanitarian crisis in Syria, or Iran and North Korea’s nuclear capabilities understandably take centre stage, it is easy to think that issues like child marriage might fall by the wayside. Yet the G8 foreign ministers specifically address child marriage under the Human Rights section of their statement, illustrating the importance of addressing this problem now.

The International Agenda

The issue of child marriage has largely been absent from the international development agenda. As an issue that undercuts many others, there has been little acknowledgement that child marriage is an issue to be addressed in and of itself.

This high-level attention comes along side continued advocacy and engagement by Girls Not Brides USA and its partners for passage of the Preventing Child Marriage Act. Along with early pregnancy, child marriage is a major obstacle to the realisation of many of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), including maternal and child health, universal primary education and eradicating poverty.

According to their joint statement:
“The Ministers expressed grave concern about the continued practice of female genital mutilation and early or forced marriage in some parts of the world. The Ministers note that early or forced marriage can reduce the opportunities of young married girls to complete their education, gain comprehensive knowledge, participate in community, or develop employable skills; makes girls more vulnerable to violence; and violate or undermines full enjoyment of human rights of women and girls.”

Next Steps

Although it is important that the G8 foreign ministers have made this statement on child marriage’s importance, it is important that words are followed with actions. G8 countries can do much more to support and implement programmes that help to reduce the high rates of child marriage, as well as empowering and educating girls and communities.

The UK will host the G8 Summit in 2013 and will play a key role in the development of new development goals once the current MDGs expire in 2015, with Prime Minister David Cameron chairing the High Level Panel of the post-MDG framework on development. These are important opportunities to build on the progress made during the G8 foreign ministers meeting, and to push to enhance global leaders’ commitments to confront this issue. Political commitments are important, but they are not enough to make a change unless they are tied to commitments of providing resources and promising action.