Human Rights Council Steps Up for Girls in Resolution to End Child Marriage

In a significant victory for girls around the world, the Human Rights Council in Geneva today adopted its first substantive resolution on ending child, early, and forced marriage, and supporting girls who are already married. Led by the governments of Sierra Leone and Italy, the resolution was co-sponsored by 88 member states from all regions, and more states are expected to sign on in the coming days.

I represented IWHC during the negotiations in Geneva, working closely with our partners and member states to ensure that this resolution offered more than empty rhetoric. I’m happy to say we succeeded in a number of ways!

The resolution builds on a recent UN General Assembly resolution by giving governments concrete guidance on how to end child, early, and forced marriage. Unlike at the General Assembly, where language on the right of girls to control all aspects of their sexuality and their sexual and reproductive health was dropped at the last minute, this resolution recognizes that right. This is a crucial step forward, particularly in the context of child marriage. Control of girls’ sexuality, and fear that their sexuality will be expressed outside of marriage, is often at the core of why families and communities push girls into early marriage.

The Human Rights Council resolution also recognizes the burden of child marriage in humanitarian and fragile settings for the first time, and reinforces the call for a target to end the practice in the Post-2015 Development Agenda (which will set funding and program priorities for the next 15 years). Moreover, the resolution includes a mandate for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to convene an expert group that will look at what next steps are necessary to address child marriage from a human rights perspective. This last piece is critical if we are to tackle child marriage as a human rights violation that impacts every aspect of a girl’s life, well into adulthood. Efforts to end child marriage must prioritize the empowerment of women and girls so they can direct their own lives. This is how we end child marriage once and for all.

Unfortunately, one essential aspect of that approach—comprehensive sexuality education (CSE)—was left out of the resolution. CSE programs address gender discrimination and inequality, and help girls and boys understand their bodies and sexuality and form healthy and safe relationships. Though there were constructive conversations in the negotiating room about why CSE is important to prevent girls from being forced into early marriage, some conservative member states continued to misconstrue and misrepresent CSE and what it entails.

IWHC will continue to advocate for CSE as a key component of ending child marriage, but we celebrate that member states are moving in the right direction. Join the global call to end child marriage and add your voice on Twitter by using #EndChildMarriage!

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