Speech by UN Women Deputy Executive Director Asa Regner on eliminating child marriage in Africa 

Remarks by Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, Asa Regner, at the high-level side event, “Accelerating Efforts to Eliminate Child Marriage in Africa by 2030” during the 73rd UN General Assembly in New York

Date: Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Excellencies, distinguished guests, 

I thank H.E. Mr. Edgar Chagwa Lungu, President of the Republic of Zambia and H.E. Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister for International Development of Canada for convening this inspiring and thought-provoking High-Level Side Event on “Accelerating Efforts to Eliminate Child Marriage in Africa by 2030’.

Today, we heard clear government commitments to end child marriage in Africa. Thank you distinguished panellists for sharing your strategies and road map on how we can build on progress to date and end, once and for all, the harmful practice of child marriage. 

The solutions and experiences we have heard today demonstrate that political will is critical to ensure that commitments translate into action in realising our common goals of ending child marriage. This is not only a moral imperative for humanity but also, the aspirations of the 2030 for Sustainable Development will not be fulfilled if the travesty that is child, early and forced marriage and other harmful practices such as female genital mutilation/cutting, continue to be barrier to the achievement of gender equality and women’s empowerment. 

The solutions that your shared with us today also demonstrate that we must walk the talk when it comes to investing in girls’ rights across sectors and ensuring their priorities and needs are central to national strategies and budgetary frameworks. 

Partnerships are pivotal in pushing the agenda of ending child marriage forward. 

The African Union, UN Women, UNICEF and UNFPA are committed to support national partners in ensuring bold and holistic efforts toward the elimination of harmful traditional practices, including child marriage. 

In this regard, I am pleased to announce that UN Women will be joining Phase II of the UNICEF-UNFPA Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage staring from its design process in 2019. 

We are also developing the regional component of the EU – UN Spotlight Initiative that will support and enhance a regional approach to ending violence against women and girls, sexual gender-based violence, harmful practices (including ending child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation) and as well as promoting Sexual heath and Reproductive Rights in Africa, in partnership with the African Union. 

The Spotlight Initiative has a multipronged approach which bridges efforts at the global and country levels. It also has targeted interventions in eight countries in Africa, namely Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

The UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, managed by UN Women, has prioritized actions for ending Child marriage, supporting national efforts in Cameroon and Liberia, with the aim of ensuring that women and girls enjoy the right to a life free of violence. The IBSA Dialogue Forum (India, Brazil, South Africa) recent funding commitment to Malawi and Zambia on Ending Child Marriage will bolster ongoing efforts in this area. 

Also, in support of the African Union’s campaign to end child marriage, UN Women is engaging with traditional and cultural leaders and institutions in their work to end child marriage and female genital mutilation in Africa by 2020. 

Furthermore, UN Women has recently concluded in partnership with the AUC a compendium of laws on child marriage across African Member States. The compendium is a tool to inform different stakeholders on countries marriage laws, track child marriage reforms process and best practice countries, and enabling targeted advocacy in the countries that require review and reform in their marriage legislation and practice. 

We have recently finalized a study and policy brief on child marriage which is a multi-country analytical intervention by UN Women on child marriage in Africa covering ten countries. A critical emphasis of the study was on the nexus between the existence and implementation of the policies/legislation, and the dominant cultural and religious practices that affect the outcomes of the interventions in those countries, especially in identified hotspot areas within the countries.

We have come so far, but our journey must continue.  On the way forward, it is imperative that we build synergies and continue to forge concerted efforts. 

Let me emphasize that we cannot eliminate discriminatory cultural norms and attitudes that deny girls’ rights without the voices of young women, traditional leaders, faith-based organizations and the private sector. 

Together we are stronger. We need all stakeholders, including all of you, advocating for the young lives. We need champions like you to get the message across the board that every girl has rights, including the right to a future of her own choosing. Our girls deserve no less. 

I thank you.