United Nations Adopts Progressive Resolution on Child Marriage

Great news! Today the UN General Assembly adopted a forward-looking resolution on the elimination of child, early, and forced marriage— a practice that deprives 15 million girls each year of their rights to health, including their sexual and reproductive health and rights, as well as their rights to equality and non-discrimination, education, and to live free from all forms of violence.

Led by the governments of Zambia and Canada, the resolution has been co-sponsored by 118 governments, demonstrating strong political will to eliminate this harmful practice.  Following the adoption of last year’s first-ever resolutions on child marriage at both the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly, this year’s resolution elaborates on the links between child marriage and development, and specifically recognizes the need to include clear commitments to end child, early, and forced marriage in the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

Importantly,  the resolution recognizes that child marriage is a violation of women’s and girls’ human rights, and constitutes a serious threat to their sexual and reproductive health. Building on discussions that took place during a recent General Assembly panel on child marriage, the resolution recognizes that child marriage is linked to deep-rooted gender inequalities and that it undermines girls’ autonomy and decision-making.

Furthermore, the resolution reinforces the need for girls’ autonomy and the promotion of their rights to be central pillars of a comprehensive and coordinated response to the issue.  When girls know their rights and understand their bodies, they are not only able to negotiate their own healthy relationships, but also to challenge powerbrokers in their communities to rethink harmful traditional and cultural norms.

Despite efforts by the Vatican, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Russia to block agreement during negotiations, the resolution calls on states to promote and protect women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, including their right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality.  Champions such as Denmark, Montenegro, and the Republic of Korea made the clear case that, without their rights respected, protected, and guaranteed, girls will continue to be deprived of their voice and autonomy, and face greater risks of experiencing sexual and reproductive ill-health, including unwanted pregnancies, health consequences associated with early pregnancy and childbirth, and unsafe abortion.

Noting that child marriage has undermined progress on the Millennium Development Goals, the resolution is an important step in building consensus for global action to end child marriage.   It also calls on the UN Secretary General to produce a comprehensive report on progress towards ending child marriage, which will be important in further elaborating best practices for ending the practice and supporting already-married women and girls.

With negotiations on the Post-2015 Development Agenda set to begin early next year, this forward-looking resolution highlights the urgency for explicitly addressing child marriage in our next development framework.

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