Why Ending Child Marriage is a Critical Part of the Post-2015 Development Agenda

Melissa Upreti

Twenty-five thousand children worldwide, most of whom are girls, are married every day.  While many countries have laws that clearly prohibit and penalize child marriage, more often than not, these laws are not enforced. In fact, laws prohibiting child marriage often coexist with and are superseded in practice by religion-based laws that permit child marriage.   

More recently, U.N bodies have strengthened their call to governments to end child marriage for obvious reasons: the practice egregiously violates a broad range of women’s and girls’ human rights. Young girls aged 10-19 bear nearly a quarter of the burden of death and disability associated with early pregnancy and childbirth and children are forced to bear children while still children themselves. Yet, child marriage continues with impunity mainly because of the failure of national governments to fulfill their commitment to eliminate the practice and the absence of legal and political accountability.  

It is important to recognize the ways in which lack of government accountability specifically for the failure to prevent and punish child marriage has undermined the achievement of several Millennium Development Goals. In Nepal, for instance, where notable progress has been made towards the achievement of MDG 5.A on reduction of maternal mortality, the risk of maternal death among adolescent girls remains high due to child marriage. Further, Nepal has made the least progress with respect to MDG 3 on gender equality, in part because of its failure to eliminate child marriage.

The U.N. must make ending child marriage a priority in the Post-2015 development framework by including it as a specific target.  Clear recognition of the elimination of child marriage in the new agenda will ensure its prioritization and establish a clear basis for routine monitoring of progress towards its elimination, which will help ensure accountability. Further it will convey the important message that crimes against women and children in the name of marriage must not be tolerated.

While ending child marriage is an important goal in itself, it is also critical for promoting gender equality and addressing gender-based discrimination. The President of the General Assembly and the Secretary-General must set a framework that effectively tackles discrimination against women by expressing a clear commitment to achieving substantive equality for women in all spheres including marriage and promoting their sexual and reproductive autonomy as a matter of human rights.

About this post: In September the UN President of the General Assembly (PGA) will be hosting a “High-level Stock-taking Event on the Post-2015 Development Agenda” in New York. Civil society is being asked to provide comments which will inform the event—a critical input into the Secretary-General’s synthesis report on the post-2015 development agenda. The above comments were submitted to the UN PGA by the Center for Reproductive Rights.