UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, Ms. Geeta Rao Gupta speaks at the launch of the Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage in New York, 15 March 2016.
NEW YORK, 16 March 2016 – With the aim to end child marriage by 2030, as set out in Goal 5.3 of the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s), UNICEF & UNFPA launched the Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage at an event held yesterday at UNICEF House in New York. Kicking off the event moderator Mr. Chernor Bah from the Population Council said, “I cannot be more delighted that we have such an auspicious gathering here, with the right people in the room with the right agencies to be able to put in place the measures that we know from evidence that organizations like the Population Council and others have gathered to actually end child marriage.” He then introduced Dr. David Nabarro, Special Adviser on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director, UNFPA who both gave impassioned speeches reminding those in the audience and those listening from afar that there is a job to be done to ensure the rights of children, and especially girls, to stay in school, decide who and when to marry, and to live their lives to their full potential.
Deputy Executive Director, Ms. Geeta Rao Gupta gave the most moving speech of the afternoon as she spoke from the heart about what ending child marriage meant to her. “This moment is very personal. It is personal, because child marriage kept me from meeting or ever knowing my paternal grandmother. It is personal, because child marriage led to my father and his four siblings growing up without a mother. My grandmother, who lived in Southern India, was married at the age of 12… She was pulled out of school to be married, and then next two decades she gave birth to eleven babies, and had countless more pregnancies. Of the eleven children only five survived. Despite having a loving husband, she was so weakened by having multiple pregnancies and the continuous grief of losing so many infants, that she succumbed to Tuberculosis and died at the age of 33.That was in 1930. Here we are 85 years later, still talking about girls getting married as children. And of course for each of them the experience is very personal. It is to serve those girls, to support their ambitions, to elevate their voices that we are launching this global programme today,” she said.
Following Geeta’s speech, a panel discussion was held in which girls from Burkina Faso, India, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, and Uganda asked a panel of experts questions about the issues that mattered the most to them, such as accommodating pregnant adolescents in school, enforcing laws against child marriage, and the contributions that need to be made to finally end child marriage in countries where it is rampant. The panellists, whose responses incited cheers from the audience included: Ms. Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of International Development and La Francophonie, Canada; Ms. Emma Bonino, Special Envoy to CSW60, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Italy; H.E. Ms. Jet Bussemaker, Minister of Education, Culture and Science, the Netherlands; Rt. Hon. Ms. Justine Greening, Secretary of State for International Development, United Kingdom; Ms. Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda, Goodwill Ambassador for Ending Child Marriage, African Union, and Ms. Heather Hamilton, Interim Executive Director, Girls Not Brides. Raima from Mozambique asked the last question, “Can girls change the world?” receiving a resounding “Yes!” from the audience.
Ms. Ashley Judd, new Goodwill Ambassador for UNFPA ended the launch event by sharing her own experiences from her childhood and her vow to be a strong voice for the millions of voiceless young girls across the world. Speaking directly to the girls, she said “I am very proud to be your Goodwill Ambassador for the empowerment of girls… I am here to serve and help you.”
The new Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage is supported by: the Government of Canada, the Permanent Mission of Italy to the UN, the Government of Netherlands, UK AID, and the European Union. It will focus on ending child marriage through such measures as increasing girls’ access to education and healthcare, involving and educating parents and families about the dangers of child marriage, increasing economic support, and strengthening the enforcement of laws establishing 18 as the minimum age of marriage.