UN Commission on the Status of Women; Human Rights Watch Draw Attention to Child Marriage

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Last Thursday, a special session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) was held to draw attention to the issue of child marriage, and the experiences of the 39,000 girls who are married before the age of 18 every day. The session highlighted both the factors that contribute to early marriage and the toll that it can have on girls’ health and well-being, including the ways that early marriage contributes to making maternal mortality the leading cause of death among 15-19 year old girls in developing countries. In addition, The Guardian reported that Malawi, a sponsor of the CSW session, is working to raise the legal age of marriage from 15 to 18 and expand girls’ access to secondary school in order to reduce child marriage

The Malawi health minister, Catherine Gotani Hara, said a recent national health survey revealed that most of those women who died were between the ages of 15 and 19.

“Our biggest worry is that where women are getting married early, it is causing a lot of maternal deaths,” she told The Guardian. “We have one of the highest rates in the world. President [Joyce] Banda says this is something we don’t want to see. Birth should not be a death sentence to women … we need to end early marriage.”

On the same day as the CSW session, Human Rights Watch released a report on child marriage in South Sudan, entitled This old man will feed us: you will marry him, which features with 87 married adolescent girls in that country – where nearly half of girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are married – along with policy analysis and interviews with civil society leaders, policy makers and others.  The report sought a comprehensive view, which situated particular issues, such as the health risks of early pregnancy within a broad frame.  From the report:

 Much of the research on child marriage in South Sudan has focused on the physical impact it has on girls’ and women’s bodies. This report examines this problem, and reinforces studies by experts and women’s rights groups in South Sudan that indicate that child marriage has a significant negative impact on women and girl’s realization of key human rights, including their rights to health and education, physical integrity and the right to marry only when they are able and willing to give their free consent.

Both the CSW session and the Human Rights Watch report have drawn significant media attention to the fact that child marriage remains all too common in many parts of the world, as well as the many economic and social factors that drive it, and the challenges that remain for ending the practice.  Among the highlights were Al Jazeera’s” Inside Story,” which featured a full episode devoted to discussion of child marriage around the world,; and Voice of America, which focused on the ways that child marriage is contributing to maternal mortality in South Sudan, as well as the immense challenges that face efforts to improve the situation.