Events were held around the world on 11 October 2012 to mark the first ever International Day of the Girl Child, the theme of which was ‘ending child marriage’. In Geneva, the Permanent Representation of the Netherlands, WHO and UNFPA convened a meeting to build a shared understanding of the scale of child marriage, the factors that contribute to it, its health and social effects, and ongoing initiatives to prevent it. Participants included representatives from country missions to the UN in Geneva, international organizations and civil society.
Message from Secretary-General Bank Ki-moon to mark the first ever Day
“Investing in girls is a moral imperative — a matter of basic justice and equality…Child marriage divorces girls from opportunity. It jeopardizes health, increases exposure to violence and abuse, and results in early and unwanted pregnancies — an often life-threatening risk.” He concluded by urging governments, community and religious leaders, civil society, the private sector, and families — especially men and boys — to do their part to let girls be girls, not brides.
Call for action
Speaking on behalf of the United Nations, Dr Flavia Bustreo, WHO’s Assistant Director-General, Family, Women’s and Children’s Health, made five key points:
1- Child marriage is an enormous problem. It is also a widespread problem.
2- The good news is that some countries are making progress on reducing child marriage. But the progress is slow.
3- This slow rate of progress is deadly – both for young girls who become young mothers, and for their babies. Poor health is one of the major problems associated with child marriage, but it is not the only one. Child marriage has terrible negative social and economic consequences.
4- Child marriage is so prevalent because poverty, low levels of education and social norms pressurize families to let it continue.
5- But this need not and should not continue. We have the means at our disposal to work together to stop child marriage.
The call for action by Dr Flavia Bustreo was echoed by other speakers representing country missions, international organizations, civil society, and young people themselves.
Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, General Secretary of the World YWCA who moderated the event, captured the sentiment in the packed room when she expressed outrage at the neglect and abuse of girl children, while also celebrating that action was being taken to address their needs.
Co-sponsors of the meeting titled ‘Joining forces to prevent early marriage’ included the Permanent Missions of Bangladesh, Canada, Denmark, Ethiopia, and Ghana, as well as the World YWCA, Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage, UNICEF, and the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health.