On Thursday 11th October 2012, as the world unites to celebrate the ‘International Day of the Girl Child’, UNICEF and partners join forces to end child marriage, a fundamental human rights violation that impacts all aspects of a girl’s life.

Today, on the first of what will be an annually observed day which aims to “raise awareness of the situation of girls around the world”, the world’s leading children’s organisation, UNICEF, in partnership with governments, civil society and UN Agencies lays the groundwork to terminate child marriage on a global scale. Under the headline ‘My Life, My Right, End Child Marriage’, a series of events and actions are taking place to draw attention to the critically important issue. Archbishop Desmond Tutu will join UNICEF, UNFPA and UN WOMEN at the UN Headquarters in New York  to discuss ways the partners and the private sector can come together to accelerate a decline in the practice of child marriage.

The desperate need for a focussed and steadfast approach to end the practice is re-enforced by data from UNICEF’s 2012 report, State of the World’s Children, which prove that despite a slow decline in the number of child marriages across the globe, there is still significant work to be done. Niger is estimated at having the highest rate of child marriages in the world, where a staggering three-quarters (75%) of the country’s children are married before the age of 18, and over a third (36%) are married before their 15th birthday. Although it does affect boys, the practice affects girls in much larger numbers.

UNICEF estimates that approximately 70 million (around one in three) young women aged 20-24 were married before the age of18, with 23 million (around one in ten) of them having been married before turning 15. Global¬ly, almost 400 million women aged 20-49, or over 40 per cent, were married while they were children.

Champion of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF warns that child marriage puts girls at risk of early and unwanted pregnancies, posing life-threatening consequences. Maternal deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth are an important component of mortality for girls aged 15-19 worldwide, accounting for some 50,000 deaths each year. Moreover, girls between 10 and 14 years of age are five times more likely than women aged 20 to 24 die in pregnancy and childbirth.

UNICEF emphasizes that child marriage occurs in almost every region of the world but occurs at higher rates in South Asia (46%), sub-Saharan Africa (37%), and Latin America and Caribbean (29%).

Despite the detrimental effect that marrying as a child often has on girls’ education, research shows that higher levels of education for girls can actually prevent child marriage. UNICEF is the lead agency for the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative, which works to ensure that by 2015, all children will be able to complete primary schooling.

UNICEF’S Principal Advisor on Gender and Rights Anju Malhotra, says“Child marriage can often result in ending a girl’s education. In communities where the practice is prevalent, marrying a girl as a child is part of a cluster of social norms and attitudes that reflect the low value accorded to the human rights of girls. Through global commitments, civil society movements, legislation and individual initiatives girls will flourish in a safe and productive environment. We must accelerate progress and dedicate resources for girls to claim their rights and realize their full potential.”


Note to Editors:

For more information please contact Georgina Thompson, Media Manager, at UNICEF UK press office on 020 7375 6120 / georginat@unicef.org.uk or 020 7375 6030 / media@unicef.org.uk

UNICEF is the world’s leading organisation working for children and their rights in more than 190 countries. As champion of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF works to help every child realise their full potential. Together with our partners, UNICEF delivers health care, nutrition, education and protection to children in urgent need, while working with governments to ensure they deliver on their promise to protect and promote the rights of every child. UNICEF relies entirely on voluntary donations from individuals, governments, institutions and corporations, and is not funded by the UN budget. For more information, please visit www.unicef.org.uk

UNICEF is the designated agency for International Day of the Girl Child.

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