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Lifting the Veil: The international effort to end Child Marriage

7 October 2015

Artwork inspired by the proceedings of the Expert Meeting on Child Marriage.

Artwork inspired by the proceedings of the Expert Meeting on Child Marriage.

“Every minute, 27 girls under the age of 18 are forced into marriage. In developing countries, one in three girls is married before the age of 18, and one in nine is married before their 15th birthday.” UNFPA (2012) Marrying Too Young: End child marriage.

The Hague, Netherlands – AWEPA participated in a full-day Expert Meeting on Child Marriage, hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in The Hague, Netherlands, on 7 October 2015. The event, entitled “Lifting the Veil”, was organised by the four Dutch Alliances working on Child Marriages (Plan Nederland; the Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) Alliance; Save the Children; and Stichting Kinderpostzegels) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The meeting provided an opportunity for those involved in the international effort to stop child marriage to showcase their lessons learned and share evidence based results in order to keep their political momentum going within the Netherlands.

Proceedings were kicked off with an introduction by Ms. Reina Buijs, Deputy Director General International Cooperation (DGIS) at the Netherlands’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Other key speakers included Princess Viktoria, who provided a welcome on behalf of the four alliances; Princess Mabel of Orange-Nassau, Chair of Girls not Brides; and H.E. Lilianne Ploumen, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development.

The expert meeting also included a panel debate and a number of fruitful sub-group discussions which led to the adoption of recommendations on the empowerment of unmarried and married girls, advocacy, changing social norms and access to services.

Overall, participants agreed to take urgent action to shift perceptions, work to prevent child, early and forced marriage and provide protection for victims of this violation of human rights.

“I will leave here today inspired and recommitted, yet again, knowing that we can eliminate child marriages.” Princess Mabel of Orange-Nassau

Find out more about the results of the expert meeting in an inspiring E-zine, published by Save the Children:

The need to take action has also been recognised by AWEPA and Plan Belgium who initiated the formation of a coalition (Platform Girls Not Brides Belgium) of numerous organisations active in the fight against child marriage including Amnesty International Belgium, BE-Gender, Centre for Vulnerable Children and the International Centre for Reproductive Health among others.

Under the initiative of Plan Belgium and AWEPA, a first meeting was organised on 1 October 2015, during which AWEPA presented the case of Zambia as an example of how the different actors (Government, NGOs and Parliament) could work together in the fight against child marriage.

The development of a draft model law on child marriage in the South African Development Community (SADC) Region was also put forward as an example of good practice. This law is developed by the SADC-Parliamentary Forum in cooperation with AWEPA and Plan.

As a result of the meeting on 1 October, the umbrella group produced a manifesto for action on forced child marriage in Belgium’s 14 official partner countries, demanding, among other things that the Belgian Development Cooperation:

  • Support Belgium’s official partner countries in the creation of national plans of action against child marriage;
  • Implement new multi-sectorial approaches to aid new innovative projects which facilitate an integrated cooperation between the different NGOs, stakeholders and sectors;
  • Strengthen the capacity for action research, analysis and oversight regarding population statistics in Belgium’s partner countries;
  • Prioritise the issue of child marriage in bilateral dialogue with the partner countries;
  • Recognise in its work the link between the quality and length of education and sexual education. In general the longer children remain in school, the later they marry.

Read the full manifesto (in French) here.

Background information

Child marriage is a violation of human rights and has serious implications on a girl’s health and development. Girls under the age of 15 are five times more likely to die during pregnancy. When children born to adolescent mothers do survive, they face an increased risk of low birth weight, under-nutrition, and developmental delays. Girls are not only denied their childhood but are often socially isolated with limited opportunities for education and employment. Girls are frequently unable to effectively negotiate safe sex leaving them vulnerable to sexual transmitted diseases, HIV and domestic violence. Without access to education or income generating activities the risk of poverty for these girls and their families is exacerbated.