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What next after the Girl Summit?

  • UNICEF reveals new data on child marriage
  • Over 100 political and financial commitments made for action on child marriage
  • Civil society concern that funding won't reach grassroots
UK Prime Minister David Cameron speaks at the Girl Summit 2014 | Russell Watkins/Department for International Development.

“I’m fighting to end child marriage and end female genital mutilation. Now it’s your turn – what are YOU going to do?”

Last week Farwa, a teen youth activist from Pakistan stood in front of more than 600 people, including government ministers, civil society organisations and human rights champions, and asked them what they will do to end both practices in a generation.

Her call was made at the first ever Girl Summit, which took place in London on 22nd July and drew global attention to female genital mutilation (FGM/C) and child marriage.

The Summit built on growing recognition that child marriage and FGM/C hold back millions of girls. The need for urgent action was emphasised by the launch of new data from UNICEF which shows that worldwide, more than 700 million women alive today were married as children.

Who committed to what?

Hosted by the UK government and UNICEF, the Summit helped to demonstrate the need for leadership at all levels and the importance of partnership in ending child marriage.

All participants were encouraged to make commitments for action on child marriage and FGM/C. Over 100 commitments are now posted online.

The Summit prompted commitments from a number of governments, which offers an opportunity for civil society groups to hold their governments to account on the specific action they will take to end child marriage.

A Charter was also adopted at the Summit, calling for an end to child marriage and FGM/C everywhere and for both practices to be included in the post-2015 development agenda. As highlighted in a speech by UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, the Charter has been signed by over 200 civil society organisations from around 60 countries and 30 governments.

New financial commitments – but will the money reach the grassroots?

The government of Ethiopia committed to end child marriage by 2025 and pledged an additional 10% of its existing budget to end child marriage and FGM/C.

Governments including the UK, Netherlands, Canada and others committed over 65 million dollars exclusively for child marriage as part of their overseas development budgets. The funding will support work in countries where child marriage is prevalent, including Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Zambia, Ghana, and Yemen. This money will be channelled through UNICEF/UNFPA.

Despite this positive announcement, many civil society organisations expressed concern over their ability to access this funding. Funding promised for civil society organisations came mainly from Foundations. Two grassroots funds were announced, together with one for youth.

The vast majority of the funds announced – running in the hundreds of millions – were not directly for child marriage, but for related issues such as gender equality. Financial commitments were also made for research on the economic impact of child marriage and for looking at what works to transform girls lives.

Political commitments: broad, vague and not enough

Many countries pledged to strengthen their domestic approach to child marriage, by raising awareness or building their own capacity to deal with the issue. A number of countries committed to champion gender equality, including child marriage in the post-2015 development agenda.

Disappointingly, many countries with high prevalence rates of child marriage did not attend the Summit, and some that did attend failed to make commitments. Those that did make commitments spoke largely about the work that they are already doing, or talked about the importance of ending child marriage. A couple of countries that are in the process of developing a national strategy to end child marriage, did not mention their plans.

Broad pledges were made by high prevalence countries to adopt multi-sectoral approaches, strengthen legal systems and mobilise resources to address child marriage. Notably Mozambique announced that on 28 July 2014 it would launch a national campaign to end child marriage.

Civil society and holding governments to account

Civil society organisations, ranging from international NGOs to small grassroots groups, pledged to continue to work to end child marriage and FGM/C, including by raising awareness and advocating for implementation of laws. Girls Not Brides and many of its members also made commitments.

Many civil society organisations are planning to use the Summit commitments to hold their governments accountable for progress on child marriage.

The Summit organisers are planning to create a multi-stakeholder task team responsible for the collation of data and the production of an annual update on progress against commitments, as a means of accountability. The first annual update is expected in July 2015.

Perspectives on the Summit from Girls Not Brides members

Representatives from more than 50 Girls Not Brides member organisations attended the Girl Summit, from 29 countries across Africa, Asia, Europe, Middle East and the Americas. Participating organisations ranged from local grassroots groups and youth activists to international NGOs, with diverse and complementary approaches to ending child marriage.

Girls Not Brides members called for funding and programming for the long term and urged governments learn from and work with the civil society organisations that have been addressing child marriage for many years.

At a Girls Not Brides meeting after the Summit, members said that the Summit was inspiring, promising, and provided an opportunity for network building.

They felt, however that more could have been done to ensure the necessary political and financial support to address child marriage in their countries and expressed concern that governments would not be held accountable for the commitments made.

It was welcomed that grassroots and other civil society organisations from many countries were invited but their meaningful participation was not encouraged. They were invited, but not integrated into the Summit discussions.

Read the Girls Not Brides member meeting highlights.

What’s next?

It remains to be seen whether and how much of the funding committed at the Summit will reach the grassroots groups working with the girls, families and communities where child marriage takes place.

Girls Not Brides members will seek to hold their governments to account for the commitments they made at the Summit and will continue to call for the laws and policies, programmes and funding that will make a difference in the life of girls.

Together we will continue efforts to encourage all governments to support a target to end child marriage in the post-2015 development agenda. Inspired by girls like Farwa, together we will do all we can to end child marriage in a generation.

For more details about the day, read The Girl Effect’s live blog of the Summit, which includes useful links to speeches and reports.