This month marked an important milestone for the global campaign against forced marriage. On Thursday 2nd July the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution promoted by more than 85 countries, calling for an end of child, early and forced marriage and recognizing it as a violation of human rights. Amongst the signatory countries there are many which experience high rates of child marriage.
This practice is described as a barrier to “sustainable development which perpetuates the cycle of poverty” because it deprives girls from an education and access to job opportunities. For this reason a child or forced marriage changes a girl’s life forever. Furthermore, child and forced marriage “prevents individuals from living their lives free from all forms of violence” with heavy consequences on basic human rights like education and health, which includes sexual and reproductive health, early pregnancy, violence and domestic abuse.
Every year, 15 million girls across the world are affected by this practice. This number is estimated to grow more by 2030 if concrete action is not undertaken. Therefore, the resolution urges for national action plans aiming to end it now and to ensure that women and girls can freely decide about their sexuality. It encourages governments to work alongside civil society organisations to educate communities and raise awareness within girls about their rights.
Child and Forced Marriage are long standing issues for development. One third of girls in developing countries are married before the age of 18 and 1 in 9 even before they turned 15. Several research pieces claim that the largest numbers of girl bride reside in South Asia. Statistics highlight that girls living in poor households are almost twice as likely to marry before they’re aged 18 as girls living in higher income household. Yet another important role is played by education. In fact, girls with poor or no education are more likely to be forced into marriage or forced to marry when still young. In the UK the 15% of cases reported involve children under 16 years old. While 75% of cases reported involve victims from South Asian, Middle Eastern or Norther African backgrounds.
There continues to be the mistaken belief that the majority of women and girls forced into early and forced marriage are Muslim, neither Islam nor other religious are affiliated with this practice. In fact, what Islam teaches is that consent from both men and women is a must before a marriage can take place.
This UN resolution is particularly meaningful for JAN Trust since we carry out awareness-raising, preventative and direct support on forced marriages. With our work we support victims of forced marriages and we are the only organisation in the UK to be working with the perpetrators of forced marriages. Since we launched our award winning Against Forced Marriage campaign in 2011 we have reached over 8,500 members from affected communities in London mainly changing mind sets so that this practice is not inflicted onto their children. We also encourage the government to work closely with grassroots organisations with the right and credible experiences in aiding victims and families and offering them the holistic support they require.
At JAN Trust we have a free helpline to support victims of forced marriage, those at risk or people concerned about friends or relatives. We also receive phone calls from practitioners across the UK who are seeking help.