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Stop stealing her childhood: Girls Not Brides members demand action from world leaders to end child marriage

12 million girls become child brides every year. That’s one girl every three seconds who is robbed of her childhood, one girl every three seconds who is at increased risk of violence and child sexual abuse. But our global movement won’t stand for it.

Over the past two months, Girls Not Brides members have come together through our #StopStealingHerChildhood campaign to show world leaders that inaction isn’t an option.

Girls Not Brides partnered with Freedom United to set up a global petition to put international pressure on leaders, ahead of the 2019 SDG Summit. Heads of state were gathering in New York to review their progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and we weren’t going to let them forget about girls.

Girls Not Brides Board Chair Mabel van Oranje delivers our petition to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi.
Credit: 8Salamander.

From every corner of the world, 94,000 global citizens came together to show enough was enough. Tens of thousands of individuals from the Freedom United community were instrumental in demanding accelerated action to end child marriage.

We want world leaders to hear all 94,000 of your voices, so we handed copies of the petition and your signatures to leaders from the African Union, European Union, and heads of UN agencies. They included: Neven Mimica, EU Commissioner for International Co-operation and Development, Amira Elfadil Mohammed Elfadil, AU Commissioner for Social Affairs, Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of UNFPA, and Governor Obaseki of Edo state, Nigeria.

Girls Not Brides delivered your petition signatures to leaders from bodies including the European Union, African Union, UNFPA and UNHCR.

But for leaders to take the lead in ending child marriage, citizens of every country – from Algeria to Australia, Brazil to Benin – need to put pressure on individual governments.

We asked Girls Not Brides members to launch their own country-level petition calling on their governments to reinforce their commitment to end child marriage at the SDG Summit.

When we join together, it’s clear that our global movement can’t be ignored.

Girls Not Brides Nepal held a silent protest in the heart of Kathmandu. They printed T-shirts with bold campaign slogans on them, which even local police wore!

In Nigeria, Girls Not Brides members united to call for change. They held a press conference and advocacy visits to make sure the issue is on their country’s agenda.

In Guatemala, Girls Not Brides members organised radio programmes, collected signatures, held a press conference, brought together young volunteers, and took to the streets to raise awareness about child marriage and girls’ rights.


Girls Not Brides member GO Joven Guatemala bring their #StopStealingHerChildhood campaign to the streets of Guatemala City.
Credit: GO Joven.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Girls Not Brides members took to the streets with banners and flags, demanding that the government put an end to child marriage.

In Chad, Girls Not Brides members called on their president specifically to take action. They sent a letter directly to his office, then followed this up with calls to their national media to make sure the message was heard.

In Rajasthan, the Girls Not Brides Partnership organised a state level workshop to discuss the SDGs and child marriage. By bringing together multiple stakeholders they are helping make sure child marriage gets the attention it needs.

Girls Not Brides member Mouvement Alerte brought together young people for a march, demanding government action to end child marriage.
Credit: Mouvement Alerte.

What happened next?

As well as organising marches and media conferences, Girls Not Brides members in Kenya, India, Uganda, Tanzania, Niger, France and DRC launched their own petitions, gathering thousands of signatures.

But the campaigning didn’t stop there. Our movement spoke up as one with an open letter to the United Nations Secretary General signed by 428 Girls Not Brides members. Together, we called for António Guterres to stand up for adolescent girls by calling on countries to take comprehensive and strategic action to address child marriage.

We joined Restless Development for a Facebook Live, where we discussed the importance of open letters to the UN in calling for change.

Childhood should be…

Fun, free and safe from violence. These were just some of the great suggestions that activists around the world sent in, as our movement took to social media to share their vision of what childhood should be.

Your marches, petitions and social media messages all added up

The #StopStealingHerChildhood campaign raised the issue of child marriage within the UN and got the issue in front of key decision-makers. At the SDG Summit, heads of State recognised that ‘Progress towards gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls is too slow’ and they committed to ‘targeted and accelerated action to remove all legal, social and economic barriers to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls’. But we were disappointed child marriage was not named. We must continue to push world leaders to see that more needs to be done if they want to end this harmful practice and violence against children by 2030.