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UK government action needed on child marriage, Gro Brundtland tells inquiry

Gro Harlem Brundtland. Photo credit: Cibele Vieira|Clinton Global Initiative

Speaking at an inquiry of the UK International Development Committee, former Prime Minister of Norway and former Director-General of the World Health Organization, Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland discussed what parliamentarians and policy-makers can do to ensure development programming tackle gender based violence. She focused in particular on the ingrained traditional practices that often have violent consequences for girls, notably child marriage.

“Child marriage is a symptom and a symbol of the inequalities and traditions that undermine the future of girls,” she told the committee.

Dr Brundtland is a member of The Elders, a group of independent leaders using their collective experience and influence for peace, justice and human rights worldwide. In September 2011, The Elders founded Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage.

Dr Brundtland stressed that it is possible to change long-held traditions like child marriage by working directly with the communities where these practices persist. Drawing on her trips to Bihar in India and Amhara in Ethiopia, where The Elders visited programmes that are helping to reduce the number of girls marrying as children, Dr Brundtland stressed that we know what works to end child marriage: it is time to move beyond research to action.

She recommended that the UK government fund programmes that have already proven to be successful, helping to create space for dialogue in the communities worst affected by violence against girls and women and practices like child marriage.

“We need to help people work directly with communities, with men, with priests, with all the groups directly at the local level; that is what really works,” she said.

The impacts of such programmatic support would be widely felt, asserted Dr Brundtland as she pointed to The Elders’ strategy of focusing on child marriage as an “entry point” into tackling violence and discrimination against girls and women, as well as wider development issues, including maternal health and universal education.

Dr Brundtland ended her submission to the inquiry on an uplifting note. “When you speak with people and you dare to speak and tell about the dangers [of traditional practices], then people start opening their minds and start asking questions to their own peers,” she stated. “People can change attitudes, they have before, and they need to so. Helping to create the room for these dialogues is an important priority.”

Visit The Elders’ website for more information on their work to end child marriage.