Lifting The Veil: expert meeting on addressing child marriage

Photo credit: Simali

Last month, experts and practitioners working to end child marriage gathered at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Netherlands for “Lifting the Veil” a day-long exploration of what is working to end child marriage.

The meeting follows the Ministry’s recent announcement that it would provide EUR 215 million for the period 2016-2020 for Dutch civil society organisations/alliances working on sexual and reproductive health and rights, and that four of the selected alliances would address child marriage.

Convened by Save the Children and Oxfam Novib, as well as members of the Alliances of the Child Marriage Fund, the meeting featured discussions, presentations and performances about what works to end child marriage. Below are some of the highlights:

Changing the minds of communities

Tribal chief Kalasa Lukangaba from Zambia spoke of his experience addressing child marriage in his community: “I don’t allow girls under 18 to get married, because young girls typically face a lot of problems when they get into a young marriage. They are children and we want to protect and educate them.”

Unexpected pregnancies are a major driver of child marriages in Zambia, but religion and tradition can make it difficult to approach the topic of contraception, Chief Lukangaba explained. “Since we cannot publicly talk about condoms, we teach our children to abstain. However, if a girl does get pregnant we do not condemn or punish her. Instead we bring the parents of the girl and boy together and talk about the situation. I encourage the parents of the pregnant girl to keep sending her to school, instead of marrying her off.”

Youth activists from Malawi also performed a play about child marriage, demonstrating how interactive theatre can help spark community conversations on difficult issues.

Latest evidence: what works to end child marriage

Experts from Promundo, Population Council and ICRW, as well as UNFPA and UNICEF, shared the latest evidence on what works to prevent child marriage. Successful approaches include:

  • Empowering girls to help them think and act for themselves
  • Educating parents and communities
  • Educating girls
  • Providing economic incentives for girls or their families
  • Legislative change: implementing laws and ensuring customary laws don’t overrule human rights laws

A number of group discussions led to the adoption of recommendations on empowering married and unmarried girls, advocacy, changing social norms and access to services (on pages 10-11).

We all have a role to play in ending child marriage

“No one wants their daughter to be married off at the age of 11 or 12. I think we have a responsibility to help parents in all parts of the world to create a different future for their children,” said Lilianne Ploumen, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation at the close of the meeting.

Girls Not Brides Board Chair Mabel van Oranje added that, following the adoption of the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, “we now need to translate this awareness and commitment into real action on the ground” and work closely with civil society which will play a crucial role in creating change in the lives of girls and their families.

Meeting photos and highlights available here.