UN Women: approaches to end child marriage


On 19 December, 2011, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 66/170 to declare 11 October as the International Day of the Girl Child. For its first observance, this year's Day will focus on child marriage, which is a fundamental human rights violation and impacts all aspects of a girl's life.

Child marriage compromises girls' development and often results in early pregnancy and social isolation. The right to ‘free and full' consent to a marriage is recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - with the recognition that consent cannot be ‘free and full' when one of the parties involved is not sufficiently mature to make an informed decision about a life partner.

The practice of child marriage further perpetuates the unrelenting cycle of gender inequality and often increases their risk of violence. Girls who are married young are at risk of rape and physical violence as they lack power in relation to their husbands and in-laws.

UN Women is working with closely with UN partners, member states and stakeholders to ensure that girls enjoy their right to a life free of violence.

To address violence against girls and young women UN Women is adopting a three tiered approach:

  • We are advocating that girls at risk or who have already experienced violence are supported, ensuring their access to protection, justice and support services, including shelters, health care, counseling services and hotline services, tailored to their specific needs.
  • We are calling for an intensification of efforts to prevent violence and to ensure that prevention strategies must also ensure they engage all segments of society, including men and boys, to challenge gender stereotypes and discrimination and promote respectful relationships.
  • We are supporting community initiatives that work with girls and boys and that seek to foster youth leadership aimed at ending violence against women and girls and that support young women and men as champions for change.

UN Women is also involved in leading global initiatives that address violence against girls:

  • The Together for Girls initiative is a unique public-private partnership through which UN Women works together with UNICEF and UNFPA, to bring attention to the issue of sexual violence against children, especially girls, in support of country driven efforts for change. Efforts to support data collection to document the magnitude and impact of sexual violence are already paying off with national action plans being developed to prevent and respond to sexual violence against girls and boys in countries where national surveys have been completed.
  • The UN Adolescent Girls Task Force is a partnership with UNFPA and UNICEF to step up action to advance the rights of adolescent girls in developing countries. Programmes are already underway in Guatemala, Liberia, Ethiopia and Malawi and focuses on five programming areas: education; with a focus on transition and completion of post-primary; health with emphasis on sexual and reproductive health; prevention and response to violence; leadership and participation and data collection and analysis.
  • The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts is designing a non-formal education curriculum on violence against girls and young women; its development and delivery are supported by UN Women. The curriculum will provide girls and young women with tools and expertise to understand the root causes of violence in their communities and educate and involve their peers and communities to prevent such violence.

As part of its global efforts, the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, managed by UN Women, is supporting initiatives in Cambodia, Gambia, Guinea, Mali, Senegal, Liberia, Ethiopia, Cameroon and Tajikistan to tackle this and other pervasive forms of violence against women and girls where it matters the most, at community and local level.

In Cambodia, UN Trust Fund grantee, Youth Star facilitating access to education for all at-risk girls and boys in the target communities, and creates space for young people in rural communities to have meaningful peer discussions on values, sexual rights, and intimate relationships and facilitates wider community conversations about domestic violence.

In Tajikistan, UN Trust Fund grantee in Tajikistan, Child Rights Center (CRC), is targeting the law to improve institutional response to child marriage. CRC has established a referral network among local law enforcement and child protection authorities in ten districts and also influenced national policy by proposing amendments to the Family Code that increased the minimum statutory age of marriage to 18 and changes to education policy that increased girls' compulsory education from nine to ten years.

In Ethiopia, Action Aid Ethiopia, UN Trust Fund grantee, trains religious and traditional leaders to use their position of authority to take a stand against violence and protect the rights of girls. Community watch groups established in 35 villages report incidents of female genital mutila¬tion or cutting or child marriage to community leaders, then assist in bringing cases to justice.

In Cameroon, the UNTF raises awareness in schools to decrease number of cases of forced marriages and early pregnancies among girls attending schools. In Liberia, the UN Trust Fund is supporting ActionAid to empower women violence survivors in South-Eastern Liberia—the area with the highest HIV rates—through implementation of the recently enacted laws on rape and inheritance, and promoting their economic empowerment for them and their families.

More information on the UNTF:
Meryem Aslan,
Chief UN Trust Fund,
email: Meryem.aslan[at]unwomen.org
T. +1 917 484 80 08
website: www.lifefreeofviolence.org