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Accelerating Action to End Child Marriage : unicef India

Accelerating Action to End Child Marriage : unicef India

Diplomat Times (New Delhi) – India has seen a steady decline in the prevalence of child marriage, from 47.4 per cent in 2005 to 23.3 per cent in 2021. Progress in India has led to a 50% decline in child marriage in South Asia. However, the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to roll back the gains made so far. The health, social, political and economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have worsened existing systemic gender inequalities and estimates indicate up to 10 million more girls could become child brides globally as a result of the pandemic.

The prevalence of child marriage in India varies significantly from one state to another (with eight states currently witnessing rates higher than the national average). Girls from poorer families, living in rural areas, and with little or no education are more likely to experience child marriage.

The UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme to End Child Marriage is the first United Nations led joint initiative designed with a focus on promoting the rights of adolescents to delay marriage, supporting adolescents to realize their rights by engaging with communities, and strengthening systems that deliver critical services to adolescents, including health and education. It was launched in 2016 and covers 12 countries – Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Mozambique, Nepal, Niger, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Yemen and Zambia. The Global Programme highlights the need for targeted and focused interventions to accelerate progress to end child marriage.

The Steering Committee governing the Global Programme is scheduled to visit India from end of October to early November 2022. The Steering Committee is comprised of senior representatives from international bilateral government agencies, private donors, and representatives from UNFPA and UNICEF headquarters and regional offices. The Global Programme is generously funded by the Governments of Belgium, Canada, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and the United Kingdom, the European Union and Zonta International. While in India, they will witness key interventions in action and interact with stakeholders at the national, State (Odisha) and district (Ganjam and Gajapati) levels.

Ms Mieke Vogels, representing the Government of Netherlands in the Steering Committee, said, “Eradicating child marriage requires multipronged, context-specific, collaborative action. Parents, community members, traditional and religious leaders, teachers, local authorities and youth, boys as well as girls, all need to be consulted and involved in working towards ending child marriage – so that in the near future all young people may choose for themselves whether, when and whom to marry. As the international community, supporting the Global Programme to End Child Marriage, we are here to learn from India’s successes in reducing the incidence of child marriage. Indeed, the development, growth and upholding of universal human rights in many countries depends on it.”

The Global Programme, currently in its second phase (2020-2023), has reached over two million girls through life skills education interventions, and has galvanized nearly 20 million community members to take action against child marriage and promote adolescent empowerment in 175 districts across fifteen states in India. The programme has also supported close to 85,000 adolescent girls in India at risk of child marriage to enrol and or remain in school.

Andrea Wojnar, Representative, UNFPA India, said, “Child Marriage, because of its linkages with poverty, low levels of education and poor access to essential services can lead to increased risk of early pregnancy and maternal mortality. It is important we take stock of what has and has not worked and keep our focus on reaching the most vulnerable and marginalized adolescents, including those in remote areas. We cannot afford to lose the momentum of the significant progress already made in India – the Global Programme reaffirms its commitment to building back better for increased resilience in the aftermath of the COVID pandemic. We will continue to support the government and CSO partners for achieving equal rights and freedoms for all.”

Cynthia McCaffrey, Representative, UNICEF India, said, “Child marriage spells an end to childhood, deprives children of their rights and leads to negative consequences for society. India’s progress towards the reduction of child marriage has made important contributions to its global decline. The Government of India’s investment demonstrates the impact of factors including increased literacy of mothers, better access to education for girls and strong public messaging on decreasing the prevalence of child marriage and, therefore, protecting millions of children from this practice.”

The Global Programme to End Child Marriage will soon enter its third phase. This phase has the longer-term, gender transformative goal of enabling significantly larger numbers of adolescent girls and boys to fully enjoy their rights and choices and experience a childhood free from the risk of marriage. Advancing adolescent rights, agency and autonomy is the most critical pathway to achieve the global common goal of eliminating harmful practices against women and girls by 2030. India’s progress on this front is critical to the success of the Global Programme, and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goal on ending early, child and forced marriage.