As Education Countdown hits 400 days, UN takes ‘historic’ step on child marriages

Tomorrow marks another milestone in the struggle to get every child around the world into school and learning – 400 days until the end of 2015.

The last day of next year was the target set by world leaders when they promised in the Millennium Development Goals in 2000 that all boys and girls would get a primary education, no matter where they lived or what their circumstances were.

With time running out, the #EducationCountdown campaign will be focusing on the issue of girls’ education over the next 100 days. Lack of access to education increases the chances of child marriage – and early and forced marriage is one of the key barriers to accessing education for girls. Each year 15 million girls under the age of 18 are married and child marriage has been a focus of the first 100 days of the #EducationCountdown.

But there is some good news. The United Nations has just passed a resolution aimed at ending child, early and forced marriages. And the first child marriage-free zone in Pakistan is being established.

The UN General Assembly agreed on November 22 to call on all countries to protect children by enacting and enforcing laws and policies which prevent early and forced marriage. It also said nations must ensure that marriages are entered into only with the informed, free and full consent of the spouses.

The move – backed by 116 countries – was welcomed by Plan International and Girls Not Brides, which both campaign globally against child marriage. Plan’s CEO Nigel Chapman called it “a historic step in protecting the basic human rights of millions of girls”. He added: “Despite being prohibited by international human rights law and many national laws, child marriage continues to rob millions of girls around the world of their childhood. It forces them out of education and into a life of poor prospects, with increased risk of violence, abuse, ill health or death.”

Sisters Nana and Zakia Abdulrahman Mohamed Ahmed, who were married at 13 and 17 in Darfur, Sudan

Girls Not Brides global co-ordinator Heather B. Hamilton called the UN resolution “historic”. She added: “The resolution demonstrates the broad international consensus that urgent action is needed to end child marriage, a practice that hold back 15 million girls a year, or about 41,000 a day, denying them fundamental rights and undermining their future. If there is no reduction in child marriage, 1.2 billion girls will marry as children by 2050 – equivalent to the entire population of India.”

Heather added: “The passage of a UN resolution does not mean that we will end child marriage tomorrow, but resolutions are important in setting global norms. This is a firm statement from the international community that we have to act on child marriage if we’re to ensure equality and reduce global poverty.”

The South Asia region – and Pakistan in particular –  has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world. But the first child marriage-free zone in Pakistan is being created in Sindh province by A World at School partner Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA)

In a guest blog for A World at School, ITA director of programmes Baela Raza Jamil tells how this “bold step” comes on the back of the passing of the Child Marriage Restraint Act 2013, which raises the age of marriage for both girls and boys to 18.

Other South Asian governments are committing to end child marriage. Earlier this year member states in the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) adopted a regional action plan – and on November 7 they issued the Kathmandu Call for Action to End Child Marriage in Asia

The African Union has pledged to end child marriage within a generation.

Find out more about child marriage and read all about the #EducationCountdown campaign and the 500 Days targets.