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Protecting girls from child marriage

Some girls are forced into marriage aged 14 or younger
Some girls are forced into marriage aged 14 or younger

A key human rights organisation for gender equality is calling on the United Nations to include the ending of child marriage in new development targets.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that over the next decade more than 140 million girls could be married off worldwide before their 18th birthday. Underage marriage not only puts a girl’s life at greater risk when she bears children, it also frequently curtails a girl’s education and traps women in a lifetime of poverty. Studies show that women who are educated and who marry later, are more likely to earn an income and contribute to their country’s economy and development. In addition, women who have babies later in life raise healthier and better educated children.

With the importance of girls’ rights rising up the development agenda, Equality Now has published a new report entitled ‘Protecting The Girl Child’. As the international community works on a new development framework to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) after 2015, the report’s authors argue that gender equality is key to ensuring the progress of emerging nations and should be reflected in any post-2015 development framework.

A human rights violation

In the new report, child marriage is classified as a ‘human rights violation’. Various case studies are presented to illustrate how the practice “stems from and sustains discrimination against women and girls” and can lead to abuse and “a life of sexual exploitation, labour or domestic violence”.

One of the case studies describes the experience of Lulu, a Maasai girl from the Manyara region of Tanzania. Having been subjected to female genital mutilation at the age of just four, at 14, Lulu was forced into a polygamous marriage. She had just completed her primary education and been selected for a place at a government secondary school, but her family would only allow her to undertake vocational training at a nearby centre.

Desperate to continue her education, Lulu tried to run away, but was caught and beaten by her father in front of her mother, siblings and neighbours. It took almost a month for Lulu to recover from her wounds and once again she fled. Lulu sought protection from a community centre and from the Network Against Female Genital Mutilation (NAFGEM), who found her a place at a vocational school in Moshi, along with a place to stay. Eventually, NAFGEM workers persuaded Lulu’s parents to let the marriage go and pay the cows back so she could continue her studies. Lulu’s father received a strong warning against further violence from local government authorities. However, no legal action was taken since Tanzania’s law allows girls to be married at the age of 14 with parental or guardian consent.

Equality Now want to see new laws enacted in countries such as Tanzania to make the minimum age of marriage 18 years. Where such laws are already in place, the organisation would like to see countries strengthening legal systems so that more prosecutions take place in cases of underage marriage. Equality Now believes that if the issue of child marriage is put onto the agenda by a new development framework, laws are more likely to be enacted and enforced by developing nations and girls across the world will be better protected.

SOS Children supports children and vulnerable families in three locations across Tanzania. Find out more about our work there...

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