Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken

Dutch Diplo Talk

Girls’ rights are human rights

29 Jan 2017

Eliminating Child Marriage in Mozambique – A Duty Shared by All

“Ending child, early and forced marriage is critical because the impacts of this practice are so profound and to far-reaching. The facts are well known – 15 million girls are married every year before they turn 18. That’s 15 million childhoods interrupted. 15 million futures forever changed. Child marriage is a violation of girls’ rights. It disrupts their access to education, jeopardizes their health and makes them vulnerable to violence. It also keeps girls from reaching their full potential and from fully contributing to the social and economic growth of their families, communities and countries. “

Today’s world offers girls the possibility of a more prosperous life than ever before. Countries have made clear commitments to end discrimination against girls. Government, international organisations, civil society and activists have made enormous strides to raise awareness and to bring to an end attitudes and practices which undermine the human rights of girls. This means that girls and young women are more able to enjoy the benefits of development alongside their male counterparts. Girls now have greater access and ability to make choices about their education, vocation and professional training, and about sexual and reproductive health services they desire. However, the practice of child marriage continues to limit the prospects of girls across the African continent.

Child marriage robs millions of girls of the very opportunities which their countries are creating. These include the right to a childhood, the right to a decent education, good livelihood and the highest attainable standard of health. Child marriage also denies girls their universal right to exercise free will and consent to marriage.

According to the United Nations Population Fund, over the coming decade, 36,000 girls under the age of 18 will be married every single day. Across sub-Saharan Africa, 4 out of every 10 girls are in this situation, becoming wives and mothers while they are still children. In essence, early marriage denies each one of these girls the potential to grow into a healthy, productive and empowered citizen.

Let girls be children. Child brides are mentally or physically unprepared for marital roles and responsibilities. Pregnancy at such tender ages is frequently accompanied by serious complications. These complications result in the death and disability of more girls between the ages of 15 and 19 years than most other causes.

When a child is forced to marry, it often means the end of education. Lack of education and social ‘taboo’ means that the young brides aren’t informed about sexuality and reproductive health. These girls are denied control of their own bodies and are unable to make informed choices about sex and when or whether to have children.

Child marriage threatens to reverse gains made to reduce the burden of HIV /AIDS. Evidence shows that child brides tend to be married to older men who have a higher chance of carrying the HIV virus. This means child brides are more likely to contract HIV than their unmarried friends. Young brides are rarely able to assert themselves in a marriage, and are therefore less likely to express their preferences about contraception and options for safe sex. It also means they are more susceptible to domestic violence.

The evidence is overwhelming. Child marriage has negative public health, economic and human rights impacts for girls, their communities and their countries. All sectors of our society have a shared responsibility to reject child marriage and to address religious, cultural or economic factors which support it. In particular, we must address widespread poverty and gender inequality. that fuel the undervaluing of girls and contribute to the practice of child marriage.

We all know what needs to be done to end this devastating practice. Through the landmark 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development governments have identified ending child marriage as a global development target. The African Union has demonstrated leadership through its Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa. SADC has adopted a Model Law on Eradicating Child Marriage and Protecting Children Already in Marriage.

Mozambique

Mozambique has been in the forefront in the region, making the prevention of child marriage a national priority. Statistics shows a practice on the decline: in 2008, 52% of girls were married before the age of 18, in 2011, that figure had dropped to 48%. That’s progress. More communities grew to understand the effects of child marriage and its impact, and traditional and religious leaders took it to heart to rid their villages of child marriage, mobilising families, teachers and students and steadily changing mentalities.  Although there have been slight decreases in child marriage rates in Mozambique, population growth has meant that the actual number of married girls has increased. Nearly one in two girls in Mozambique are married before their 18th birthday, and 14 percent are married by the age of 15, despite the legal age of marriage being 18.

National Strategy to Prevent and Combat Child Marriage

The urgent situation in Mozambique inspired the Government of Mozambique to launch its National Strategy to Prevent and Combat Child Marriage. The strategy was spearheaded by the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Affairs in close consultation with multiple ministries, United Nations agencies, donors, civil society organisations and Girls Not Brides Mozambique.

Girls Not Brides Mozambique (a partnership consisting of 44 NGO’s working in the seven most impacted provinces) helped anchor the content of the strategy in grassroots realities through consultations with girls, children, parents, community leaders, and traditional groups, including faith-based organisations, were held.

We would like to congratulate the Government of Mozambique on its leadership and hope other countries in the region will follow this example. Now we have to ensure this initiative can have a life-changing impact on the girls in Mozambique. In particular, strong coordination of all stakeholders – from government ministries and donors, to civil society and communities – will be critical to overcome this complex and multi-faceted problem. This means mapping out who is already doing what, and what their role in implementing the strategy should be. We believe the government is well-positioned to lead this effort. Only strong political will can ensure that relevant ministries and government at all levels play their part in ending child marriage. Civil society, international agencies stand ready to support.

The Power of a Family

Finally, every child bride exists within a family and community. Every potential child bride has parental figures and community leaders whose moral responsibility is to protect the girl. This requires committed, fearless champions willing to change mind-sets and beliefs which encourage child marriage. Families, communities and government should work together to ensure that girls have the same access as boys to good quality primary and secondary education. At the same time, support should also be given to girls who are already married to get their lives back on track. They need to get back into school. They need information and services to secure their sexual and reproductive health. They also need skills, information and opportunities to become economically productive citizens.

Sweden, the Netherlands and Canada’s long standing partnership with Mozambique aims to create opportunities for people living in poverty to improve their living conditions. We are committed to supporting eradication of poverty by deepening democracy, development,respect for human rights and gender equality. A critical aspect of our development cooperation is supporting improved sexual and reproductive health and rights. Preventing early marriage is therefore an important aspect of contribution to national development.

We are seeing change in the lives of individual girls and communities. However, this change is happening far too slowly. We need to start recognizing child marriage for what it is: a human rights abuse that is subjecting 1 in 2 girls in Mozambique to multiple forms of violence.

If we work together to tackle child marriage, we can create a world where girls and women are empowered and able to enjoy their rights. This is a world that makes all of us better off. We are committed to working alongside the government of Mozambique, civil society and communities to increase focus, commitment and resources towards ending gender discrimination and child marriage.

Let’s end child marriage in our generation!

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About the author

Pascalle Grotenhuis
Written by Pascalle Grotenhuis

Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Mozambique

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