On the margins of the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly, the governments of Zambia and Canada, with support from UN Women, UNICEF, UNFPA and the African Union Commission, hosted a high-level side event for global leaders to renew their commitments and accelerate efforts to end child marriage in Africa by 2030.
“Girls who marry young are often denied their rights,” said President of Zambia Edgar Lungu. “Ending child marriage by 2030 will require a range of action, including making sure girls have access to quality education, legal reforms and changing traditional harmful practices.”
The 18 September event, attended by President of Zambia, Edgar Lungu; President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni; and President of Malawi, Peter Mutharika, and a host of senior officials, provided an opportunity to renew existing partnerships to end child marriage in the build up to the second African Girls’ Summit on Ending Child Marriage in Africa.
“We cannot harvest the best potential unless we stop early marriage,” said President Mutharika of Malawi. “Every child must be given empowerment and wings of hope to fly very high. We must invest more in our young people.”
President Museveni of Uganda emphasized the importance of education for girls and skills training to boost women’s economic empowerment and financial independence: “If they can get out of dependence on parents or husbands, then girls can have free choice.”
UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka moderated the interactive dialogue and expressed her appreciation for the support of the leaders. Emphasizing the importance of continued work on the critical issue of ending child and forced marriages, she said: “It is about acceleration. Accelerating action to 2030, so by that time we have eradicated this harmful practice,” said Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka. “If we don’t empower girls, there is no hope for anyone else.”
Worldwide, almost 750 million women and girls alive today were married before their 18th birthday. In West and Central Africa, where child marriage is most common, more than four in 10 girls were married before age 18. Although child marriage is slowly declining worldwide, if current trends continue, due to population growth, the total number of child brides will remain around 750 million in 2030. A third of them will be African. Ending child, early and forced marriages is now a specific target of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 5).