On 12 June 2018 we partnered with Girls Not Brides, United Nations agencies and NGOs to organize a roundtable event in Geneva. This event was held to mark one year since the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council adopted its first resolution focusing on prevention and elimination of child marriage in humanitarian settings. The meeting was vital for building a broader basis of support for the UN Human Rights Council’s work on ending child marriage. Together with our partners, we showcased the experiences and best practice insights of child and youth activists, as well as local NGOs and their activities on a grassroots level in order to end child marriage through a human rights and gender transformative approach.
Child Marriage in Jordan
In particular, Jordan has witnessed an increase in early marriage as well as social, health, psychological and economic repercussions. According to the Higher Population Council Study on Child Marriage in Jordan, the ratio of Jordanian women married below 18 years ranged between 9.5% in 2011 and 11.6% in 2015.
It is for this reason that our meeting began with our child participation segment where our Jordan country office facilitated a webcast with our 17-year-old Syrian girl champion. In her keynote speech, she shared how she fled from the conflict in Syria 4 years ago and came to Jordan as a refugee. After a year in Jordan, she went through psychological struggle and eventually dropped out of school. At that time, she had agreed to marry someone who had proposed to her despite her family’s refusal. Fortunately, around the same time, she got in touch with an education programme from Save the Children Jordan which encouraged her to go back to school.
Once she realized the negative consequences of getting married at an early age, she started to speak out and encourage other girls in her school, as well as their parents, to say no to child marriage and support on girls’ education instead. She is now collaborating with our Jordan country office to raise awareness of the dangers of child marriage and representing children and young people in regional and international advocacy events, including the ‘No Lost Generation’ event held last year.
Given the rapidly changing local context, our Jordan office hopes that this event provides a platform for concrete future steps and a voice that raises awareness at the highest levels on the seriousness of this issue and how its impact goes beyond the girl involved in the marriage, but also her future children and family. A movement should be launched by all concerned stakeholders, including communities, NGOs and Governments.
Child marriage in Pakistan
Pakistan is another country where child marriage has become a major issue. It is estimated that 21% of girls in Pakistan are married before the age of 18 (UNICEF, 2017). Although Pakistan has ratified UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in 1990 and there has been a recommendation by the Committee on the Rights of the Child that the legal age of marriage for girls in Pakistan be 18 years, the situation of child marriage is still bleak. There are gaps in legislations on banning child marriage resulting in a significant number of victims of child marriage across the country.
The NGO Search for Justice (Sfj) our partner in Pakistan, is an active member and secretariat of the Child Rights Movement (CRM) Punjab and is continuously engaging with relevant government departments and ministries to push for the legislative reforms in the largest province of Pakistan, Punjab to end child marriage.
SfJ has planned a follow up meeting of Child Rights Movement Punjab, where a briefing on this event for all member organizations will allow future action plans to be taken against child marriages in the Punjab province. Our Pakistan country office hopes that through global consultation and advocacy, a local and provincial level advocacy will again pick up in pace.
The discussions from the event revealed a strong consensus that local activities undertaken by activists and NGOS are key resources for the development of any global policy or accountability mechanism on ending child marriage, especially when child and youth activists are involved. The discussion found that “multi-level advocacy and accountability” would be a real game changer- as this means that local, national, regional and global initiatives can mutually reinforce each other to campaign against Child marriage.
The event has inspired the organising partners to support a “local to global approach” by hosting a series of ending child marriage events between 2018 and 2019. We are also planning follow-up activities to take place in Jordan, Pakistan and other countries where we are working with our partner Girls Not Brides.