Statement to the Human Rights Council
High Level Panel on Preventing and Eliminating Child, Early and Forced Marriage
26th Session of the Human Rights Council
23rd June 2014,
African Union Goodwill Ambassador for Campaign to End Child Marriage
I am honoured to make this statement in my capacity as the African Union Goodwill Ambassador for the Campaign to End Child Marriage, as this is my first time to take the floor in this capacity. I congratulate the Human Rights Council for the procedural resolution on ending child, early and forced marriage adopted last year that paved the way for the study and for the convening of this panel.
This issue is personal to me in many more ways. It is the story of my mother Rozaria, who was pulled out of school at age 15 in order to marry my own father. It is the story of Miriam, Seyanbou, Mereso, and millions of other girls many of whom I have met in life and daily work with the World YWCA. This is an issue about life, families, communities, broken dreams and shattered bodies. It is about girls at risk of marriage; just as much as it is about the millions of adolescent mothers and girls in marriage. It is about the 276 Nigerian Girls from Chibok, who are yet to be rescued!
It is an issue of responsibility and accountability for all of us, and a deeper calling for us to respect the essence of human rights. Child, early and forced marriage is the nexus of household poverty, violence against women, abuse and misuse of cultures, traditions and religion; it is an issue of gender inequalities. It is exacerbated by situations of conflict and wars. It is legal, socio-cultural and economic issue. It speaks to the lack of implementation of the many existing commitments to women and young people at national, regional and global levels.
I have had the opportunity to work closely with the Office of the High Commission on Human Rights as they undertook this study, and the data and evidence of extent human rights violation perpetuated through this practice in unacceptable. It is encouraging therefore to witness the global effort currently underway to address this issue. Indeed, I congratulate the Human Rights Council for showing leadership on this matter.
The statistics are telling that child marriage is highly prevalent in Africa. There are 41 countries worldwide with child marriage rate of 30% or more, and of these 30 are in Africa. The UN reports that nearly four out of every ten young women in Africa were married or in a union before the age of 18. Every year, about 14 million adolescent and teenage girls are married, almost always forced into the arrangement by their parents. This is equivalent to the population of my own country Zimbabwe. The child, early and forced marriage is a confluence of the multiple violations of the rights of girls. It is about poverty, discrimination and exclusion; it is violence against women and girl, abuse, rape and exploitation. Forced is abduction. It is illegal, immoral and an unacceptable harmful practice.
In recognition of the seriousness and urgency of the issue, H.E. Mrs. Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini-Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC), is promoting a new Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa. The two-year Campaign was launched continent-wide on 29 May 2014 at the session of the 4th AU Conference of Ministers of Social Development (CAMSD4), in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The broad aims of the campaign are:
(i) Ending child marriage by supporting policy action in the protection and promotion of human rights,
(ii) Mobilizing continental awareness of child marriage,
(iii) Removing barriers and bottlenecks to law enforcement,
(iv) Determining the socio-economic impact of child marriage;
(v) Increasing the capacity of non-state actors to undertake evidence-based policy advocacy
The specific objectives of the two year campaign are:
- Promote the effective implementation of the AU legal and policy instruments with the bearing on young people especially the girl child, and for promoting the fulfilment of their rights
- Promote and support the African Union member states to frame, launch and execute national strategies and programmes, including building social movement at community level with multi-stakeholder engagement
- Promote universal access to birth registration, quality education and sexual and reproductive health (SRHR) services, including meeting the unmet needs of married and unmarried adolescents for family planning, and
- Strengthen the evidence base needed to design and implement effective policies and programmes for reducing child marriage at scale. (AU Call to Action, 2014)
This campaign aims to implement the existing AU policies and legal instruments including the Youth Charter, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1999); the Policy Framework on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights; the AU Campaign for the Accelerated Reduction of Maternal, New born and Child Mortality in Africa (CARMMA) and the Maputo Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa. In many ways, this campaign is also a practical way for the realisation of rights for women and girls ascribed to at the international level include the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
This is an urgent matter for which I call on the Human Rights Council to consider the following:
- Request the Council to adopt this issue standing item on its agenda, with an Annual Substantive Resolution for the coming years, building on the precedent of this HRC on its work on Violence against women; in recognition and support of the efforts emerging from the African Member States and the African Union and civil society.
- Ensure the implementation of the recommendation of the study through the various Human Rights Council mechanisms, including the special mandates, the treaty bodies, and the UPR and for all other opportunities available.
- We need a firm commitment to ending child, early and forced marriage in the post 2015 agenda, accompanied by a quality monitoring and resource framework, thus ensuring support to country activities and programmes.
- Request member states to address the underlying causes of child early and forced marriage including feminisation of household poverty, harmonising the age of marriage with legal age of majority; facilitate civil registration of births and marriages; ensure greater investment in education of girls; young women’s leadership and empowerment as well as building peaceful communities and ending conflicts.
- Call on communities especially cultural and religious leaders and faith based organisations to speak out against the abuse and misuse of traditions and faiths; often used as justification for the perpetuation of these harmful practices. Instead, we should harness the great potential religion has, through its teaching on love to actually defend and protect girls until they are ready and can choose for themselves who to marry.
- Challenge each one of us to find an appropriate word to describe this violation of girls and women’s rights because calling it “marriage” provides a cloak of legality and acceptability to a criminal action that goes against the society’s mores.
- Provide and sustain the critical political, financial, technical and community resources necessary to end child, early and forced marriage. Increased allocation of resources to education, health, social service, community, youth and women’s groups is indeed crucial.
In conclusion, I acknowledge the many partners supporting the African Campaign as well as those involved at the global levels including UNFPA, UNICEF, Ford Foundation, Girls Not Brides, Plan International, World YWCA and many initiatives at various levels. The commitments of countries like Zambia, Sierra Leone, and Canada among others do inspire us in this effort. My appreciation to Navi Pillay, the High Commissioner for Human Rights for her leadership and commitment to addressing this specific human rights issue during her term in office. I know that with our collective effort, it’s possible to end child marriage within a single generation.