West and Central Africa steps up action to end child marriage

Girls Not Brides joined ministers, civil society, youth groups and other actors from across West and Central Africa from 23 to 25 October in Dakar, Senegal, as part of the biggest ever combined push to end child marriage in the region.

Hosted by the Government of Senegal, the High-Level Meeting on Ending Child Marriage brought together government leaders, civil society, religious leaders and youth from the region, as well as donors, the African Union and UN agencies, to agree on concrete steps for ending the practice.

The three-day meeting closed with ambitious commitments from over 20 countries, which ranged from setting up national action plans and committing financial resources to involving youth and working in partnership with civil society.

Youth advocates and religious leaders brought perspectives on child marriage that are rarely heard in these kinds of meetings.

The meeting was a first for West and Central Africa, which is home to six of the 10 countries with the world’s highest rates of child marriage. In these countries more than half of all girls will marry before they are 18, while in countries like Niger rates are as high as 76 percent.

Although some progress towards ending the practice has been made in the region, urgent action is needed to prevent millions more girls from being robbed of their childhoods.

Ministers and senior government officials from 26 countries across West and Central Africa attended the meeting. They were joined by Mabel van Oranje, Chair of Girls Not Brides, as well as many Girls Not Brides member organisations working to end child marriage in the region, including FAWE, Plan International, Save the Children, WiLDAF and World Vision.

Youth advocates and a number of Girls Not Brides members met ahead of the High-Level Meeting to agree on joint policy and advocacy messages, key principles and recommendations, build a sense of collective commitment, and identify ways to build on the outcomes of the meeting.

Participants from across West and Central Africa agreed on national priorities and concrete plans for putting their commitments into action. We look forward to seeing progress towards ending child marriage and positive change for girls in the region!