By Rudina Vojvoda
NEW YORK, 11 October 2012 – Today, 11 October, marks the first ever International Day of the Girl Child, a day set by the United Nations to highlight the challenges girls face and to promote girls’ empowerment and the fulfilment of their human rights. This year’s theme is “Ending Child Marriage”, chosen because child marriage denies a girl of her childhood, disrupts her education, limits her opportunities, increases her risk of violence and abuse, and jeopardizes her health.
To discuss the role of education in ending child marriage and enabling girls to reach their full potential, UNICEF’s podcast moderator Femi Oke spoke with Dr. Anju Malhotra, UNICEF’s Principal Adviser, Gender and Rights.
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“Education is the single preventative to child marriage”
Despite the progress made over the last several decades, child marriage continues to be widespread around the world. Currently, one in three young women aged 20-24 years were married before they reached age 18. One third of these girls entered into marriage before they turned 15 years old. Child marriage is found in practically every region of the world, but occurs at higher rates in South Asia (46 per cent), sub-Saharan Africa (37 per cent), and Latin America and Caribbean (29 per cent).
Dr. Malhorta agreed that progress has been made, but for some countries it has been much too slow. “The best thing that happens over time is that as countries develop and especially as girls are getting educated, child marriage declines. There are countries that 30-40 years ago used to have high rates of child marriage but have now grown out of that such as Taiwan and Indonesia. But in many other countries the process has been very slow and in the last decade or so we have not seen the types of improvement that we would like to see,” said Dr. Malhorta.
Explaining the link between education and child marriage, Dr. Malhorta brought up the example of Taiwan, where high economic growth paired with a serious investment in girls’ education has led to a tremendous decline in child marriage. “From everything that we are seeing girls’ education is the single biggest preventative to ending child marriage. That solution has to be part of a package.”
When it comes to ending child marriage globally, Dr. Malhorta is realistic but hopeful for the future. “I would like to see child marriage to be eradicated in one generation – that is 20-25 years. It seems a very long time but we are talking about 150 million girls facing the risk of getting married as children in the next decade. We need to start moving fast because so many lives are at risk and I think we can do it,” concluded Dr. Malhorta.
Blog by Nora Fyles, Head of the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) Secretariat :International Day of the Girl: Girls’ Rights are Human Rights