|Archbishop Desmond Tutu - South Africa|
The meeting, attended by 70 women and men from more than 55 grassroots and global organisations working to end child marriage around the world, said child marriage is a fundamental breach of human rights and affects an estimated 10 million girls per year.
The Executive Director of GAMCOTRAP, Dr. Isatou Touray was among renowned world advocates on child and women rights, among them Dr. Gro Brundtland, Mrs. Graça Machel, Mrs. Mary Robinson and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
The Elders initiated the formation of an ‘Alliance to end child marriage, saying it curtails their education, endangers their health and impedes efforts to fight poverty. It hinders the achievement of six of the eight Millennium Development Goals. It is a harmful traditional practice that affects millions of children, predominantly girls, in many countries and across religions.
“There is no religion that endorses or promotes child marriage,” they agreed, while recognising that “delaying marriage, investing in girls’ education and their development can bring significant benefits to girls, their families and their communities”.
In fact, the Chair of the Elders, Archbishop Tutu, described the scale of the problem of child marriage as devastating and said he was “shattered” to meet Ethiopian women and girls who had married as young as 8 or 10. “You can understand something cerebrally,” he said, “but it is not the same when it is translated into flesh and blood.”
He spoke positively about his conversations with Orthodox Christian and Islamic representatives in Ethiopia who have spoken publicly against child marriage.
His southern African compatriot, Graça Machel, an international advocate for children’s and women’s rights, was passionate about the importance of giving a voice to the millions of girls who are “a silent part of our society”.
While arguing that as traditions are made by people, they can be changed. “We must be respectful,” she said. “But we must also have the courage to say that change is necessary in relation to harmful traditional practices.”
Former Prime Minister of Norway and a doctor by profession, Dr. Gro Brundtland described child marriage as a hidden, yet central issue in reaching fundamental development objectives such as health and education. She said that child marriage deserves far more attention than it currently receives.
Former President of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson highlighted the importance of empowering girls. She encouraged the Alliance to work towards ensuring that girls are not married before the age of 18, in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
However, they noted that the issue could better be addressed through a holistic, multi-faceted, rights-based approach to ending child marriage. Recognising that ending child marriage requires discussion within communities, leading to a collective agreement to end the practice, they stressed that global and national efforts should ultimately support local change. They called for efforts to be complementary and interlinked.
They jointly exhort for improved services, especially education and incentives to keep girls in school as well as programmes to support married girls; and establishment and implementation of legal frameworks that reflect international conventions and human rights standards.
The strategic planning reflected on the institutional framework for the Alliance, as well as organisational practicalities, messaging on the issue of child marriage, as well as allow for the sharing of information on best practices, with an emphasis on local-level change with global support.
The Alliance said it will draw attention to the need for more information on the magnitude of child marriage, as well as programmatic initiatives that have helped to prevent or end it. By raising awareness the Alliance also aims to mobilize political will and financial and other resources to address child marriage and provide support for married girls.
· Author: Modou S. Joof, for The Voice Newspaper