Canada Leads UN Effort to Stop Child, Early and Forced Marriage

October 24, 2013 - Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird today announced Canada’s introduction of the first-ever stand-alone resolution at the United Nations General Assembly on child, early and forced marriage.

“The devastating effects of child, early and forced marriage are well documented and indisputable,” said Baird. “Today’s introduction of this resolution marks a symbolic day for the millions of women and girls subjected to the inhumane practice of child, early and forced marriage. It reaffirms our commitment to protecting children’s rights and calls for further action in the UN General Assembly to address this barbaric practice.”

The resolution builds on Canada’s ongoing efforts at the UN. Most recently, Baird co-hosted a signature event on child, early and forced marriage during the 68th Session of the UN General Assembly in September 2013. Canada also worked with a core group of countries to develop a procedural resolution on child, early and forced marriage at the 24th session of the Human Rights Council in September.

Canada is pursuing all available avenues to put an end to this practice. Baird announced today $5 million in new money to tackle the causes of child, early and forced marriage around the world. This allocation will go toward engaging with communities in countries where it is most common. Canada is also committed to continuing education programs aimed at young girls and maternal health.

“Our government has made it a priority to fight the scourge of child, early and forced marriage,” said Baird. “In our latest Speech from the Throne, the government pledged to ensure that this inhumane practice does not occur on our soil.”

A backgrounder follows.

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Backgrounder - Programs in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Ghana, Somalia and Zimbabwe

Child, early and forced marriage is perpetuated by poverty and gender discrimination. Globally, between 2004 and 2014, an estimated 100 million girls will have been forced to marry before their 18th birthday.

Canada has committed nearly $3 billion over five years to help women and children lead longer, healthier lives. That is in addition to the almost $14 million in support Canada has provided toward ending sexual violence and encouraging the full participation of women in emerging democracies.

The new allocation of $5 million for tackling child, early and forced marriage will initially be rolled out to programs in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Ghana, Somalia and Zimbabwe, with funding available for further projects.

Protection of Women’s Rights Toward Eradication of Child, Early and Forced Marriage in Afghanistan

Recent surveys in Afghanistan show that 46 percent of Afghan women are married by the age of 18, and between 60 percent and 80 per cent of all marriages are forced.

This project will build linkages between human rights principles in Afghan, Islamic and international law by emphasizing women’s rights as a fundamental Islamic principle. It will also increase awareness of obligations to protect the rights of women and girls and create positive attitude shifts in both men and women.

Promoting and Supporting Enforcement of Marriage Age Laws and Eradication of Child, Early and Forced Marriage in Ethiopia

In Ethiopia, the minimum age for marriage is 18 years, and Ethiopian law criminalizes child, early and forced marriage and polygamy. Nevertheless, up to 27 percent of women are married, widowed or divorced between the ages of 15 and 19 years.

This project will contribute toward promoting the rights of women and girls through the development of community action plans driven by prominent community leaders and through working with parent-teacher associations to address the issue and improve the school environment for young girls.

Positive Action Against Child, Early and Forced Marriage in Ghana

The practice of child, early and forced marriage is alarmingly common in Ghana, brought about by economic and societal pressures and traditions. The practice is widespread in spite of local legislation prohibiting the forced marriages of children.

Work in Ghana will aim to tackle the multi-faceted nature of the problem by fostering dialogue and building capacity, among government and civil society alike, to sensitize and engage people and enable stronger enforcement of legislation.

Projects will raise awareness among members of Parliament and government leaders about the importance of protecting girls and preserving their value as essential contributors to the political, economic and social development of their country.

Promotion of community-level activism and a strengthened institutional response against child, early and forced marriage will help communities develop alternatives and implement proactive solutions.

Our projects will also contribute to ensuring that adolescent girls have access to quality education and other socio-economic opportunities to realize their full potential.

Protecting Girls Against Child, Early and Forced Marriage in Somalia

Studies confirm that violence against girls remains rampant in Somalia, with almost 75 percent of girls facing the threat of forced marriage in specific regions of the country. Child, early and forced marriage increases young women’s exposure to HIV and other sexually transmitted infections and also increases maternal mortality.

This project will contribute toward promoting the rights of girls, developing legislation for the protection of children, and building the capacity of the government and communities to address child and early forced marriage and to tangibly protect girls from the associated risks. 

Responsive Approaches to Child, Early and Forced Marriage in Zimbabwe

Child, early and forced marriages are illegal according to the laws of Zimbabwe, and yet an estimated 34 percent of girls will be married by the time they are 18 years old. In Zimbabwe, girls are married off early for religious, cultural and economic reasons. This project will contribute toward promoting equality and will help protect and support children, particularly girls, who suffer from sexual abuse, including rape and child, early and forced marriage.