Preventing & ending child, early and forced marriage – Girls Not Brides statement at Human Rights Council

UN Human Rights Council, 26th Session
High Level Panel on Preventing and Eliminating Child, Early and Forced Marriage
23 June 2014

Oral Statement delivered on behalf of Shirkat Gah Women’s Resource Centre by Lakshmi Sundaram, Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage

Thank you Mr President. Shirkat Gah Women’s Resource Centre, in collaboration with Girls Not Brides, a global partnership of more than 350 civil society organisations from over 60 countries, welcome the contribution that today’s discussion and the OHCHR report A/HRC/26/22 are making towards ending child, early and forced marriage.

As acknowledged in today’s panel, as well as in Human Rights Council Resolution A/HRC/RES/24/23, child, early and forced marriage violates a range of girls’ human rights; including the rights to live free from violence and exploitation, to education, equality, non-discrimination, to participate in decisions that affect them, to access the highest attainable standard of health, including sexual and reproductive health. We welcome the report and its recommendations, in particular the definitions of child, early and forced marriage. We encourage the Human Rights Council to continue to address this matter, including through the Universal Periodic Review process, the treaty monitoring bodies and special procedures, to continue to make strong recommendations to Member States to ensure that they are implementing their human rights obligations related to child, early and forced marriage.

We urge governments to ensure that national legal frameworks are in line with international human rights standards. Accordingly, we call on Governments to enact, enforce, and raise public awareness of legislation that sets 18 as the minimum legal age for marriage for both girls and boys, including ensuring that national law complies with international law, and asserting the primacy of national law over religious or customary laws. In many countries where there is a legal age of 18, girls can be married earlier with parental consent. However, it is often the parents or guardians themselves who are forcing girls to marry. ‘Parental consent’ should therefore not be used to excuse child, early and forced marriage. Furthermore, when a girl appears to be consenting to a marriage, this consent should be examined within the context of discriminatory social norms, family pressure and lack of other options.

Ending child, early and forced marriage is a long-term undertaking that will require comprehensive and coordinated action across Ministries and in partnership with civil society and other relevant stakeholders. We call on governments to recognise the critical role played by civil society organisations, particularly community-level groups and religious and community leaders, and to work closely with them in developing and implementing solutions.

Finally, it is important to recognise child, early and forced marriage not only as a series of human rights violations, but also as a barrier to development. The Human Rights Council Resolution (A/HRC/RES/24/23) adopted last year recognised that “the persistence of child, early and forced marriage contributes to impairing the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and sustainable and inclusive economic growth and social cohesion and that therefore the elimination of child, early and forced marriage should be considered in the discussion of the post-2015 development agenda”. We therefore encourage all governments to support a target to end child, early and forced marriage in the post-2015 development framework.