UN General Assembly adopts 2nd resolution on child, early and forced marriage – December 2016

The incoming Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, at the 71th session of the UN General Assembly in December 2016. | Photo credit: UN / Manuel Elias

On 19 December 2016, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted a second resolution on child, early and forced marriage (CEFM) at its 71st session. The resolution was co-sponsored by Canada and Zambia, with sponsorship from more than 100 Member States.

Resolution available here in English, French, Arabic,  Chinese,  Russian, and Spanish.

While they may seem removed from the daily realities of ending child marriage, UN resolutions are important for several reasons. They help build international political will to end child marriage and acknowledge its harmful impact. They also provide accountability to governments and help direct funding towards ending child marriage.

So, what is new about this resolution?

1/ It expands existing language around child, early and forced marriage

For instance, the resolution:

  • Recognises gender inequality as a root cause of CEFM. Child marriage is often caused by social expectations of what it means to be a girl, including “deep-rooted gender inequalities and stereotypes, harmful practices, perceptions and customs and discriminatory norms”;
  • Recognises CEFM as a harmful abuse of human rights which it is linked to. Child marriage perpetuates other violations which disproportionately affect women and girls; and
  • Acknowledges that several contexts exacerbate child marriage including poverty, insecurity, and lack of education. For the first time, the UN also recognises the incidence and risk of child marriage in armed conflict and humanitarian emergencies.

2/ It sets out the roles & responsibilities of UN Member States in ending child, early and forced marriage

This resolution stands out from others by focusing on the specific roles and responsibilities of Member States in working towards a world free of CEFM at all levels.

It also focuses on what governments need to do in terms of legal and policy changes, strengthening systems and providing services, and working with families, communities and girls themselves to change social norms.

The resolution also asks that:

  • Governments include an update on their progress towards ending CEFM in their national reports to international treaty bodies, in the universal periodic review, and in national voluntary reviews conducted through the High-Level Political Forum (HLFP) on sustainable development. The next HLPF is in July 2017.
  • The Secretary-General submits a comprehensive report to the General Assembly before the end of its 72nd session on progress towards ending CEFM worldwide.
  • The General Assembly considers the issue of CEFM at its 73rd session under the item “Promotion and protection of the rights of child”.

3/ It reaffirms previous commitments on child, early and forced marriage

The resolution reaffirms previous commitments made to resolution 69/156 on CEFM in December 2014. It builds on previous global commitments, including the 2015 Human Rights Council resolutions and others related to the girl child and ending violence against women and girls.

It acknowledges progress made towards ending child marriage globally so far, including the inclusion of target 5.3 to end child marriage in the Sustainable Development Goals, and other global initiatives such as UNICEF-UNFPA’s Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage. It also recognises regional progress such as the African Union’s Campaign to End Child Marriage and the Regional Plan to End Child Marriage in South Asia.

This latest UN resolution is fundamental to building strong international standards that recognise child marriage for what it is: a violation of girls’ fundamental human rights.