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11 October 2012: UN Women and UNFPA focus on ending child marriage on the International Day of the Girl Child

DAR ES SALAAM, 11 October 2012 – On the first International Day of the Girl Child, UNICEF, UN Women and UNFPA are highlighting joint efforts to end child marriage – a fundamental human rights violation that impacts all aspects of a girl’s life.

“The International Day of the Girl Child focuses attention on the need to address the challenges girls face and to promote girls’ empowerment and the fulfilment of their rights,” said Paul Edwards, UNICEF Tanzania Deputy Representative. “The UN and partners are coming together to call upon the Government of Tanzania, civil society actors and the international community to take urgent action to end the harmful practice of child marriage.”

Under the headline ‘My Life, My Right, End Child Marriage’, a series of events and actions are taking place throughout the world to draw attention to this critically important issue. At UN Headquarters in New York, Archbishop Desmond Tutu will join UNICEF, UNFPA and UN WOMEN to discuss ways governments, civil society, UN agencies and the private sector can come together to accelerate a decline in the practice of child marriage.

In Tanzania, an all-encompassing social media campaign has been launched, aimed at raising awareness about the need to reverse the fate of girls who are far too often married off at a very young age. Although Tanzania has seen some progress over the last few years in reducing child marriage by as much as 13 percent, today, one in six girls aged 15 to 19 years is married.

“Child marriage results in early and unwanted pregnancies, posing life-threatening risks for girls. A girl who marries later is more likely to stay in school, work and re-invest her income into her family and community, she is also more empowered to choose when, where and how many children to have. She and her family are more educated and healthier”, commented Mariam Khan, UNFPA Tanzania Representative a.i. “Investing in girls helps break the cycle of poverty in the family and community – longer schooling, later marriage leads to healthier, wealthier families, she added.

Child brides may also suffer vulnerability to HIV and AIDS. Future husbands may already be infected from previous sexual encounters - a risk which is particular acute for girls with older husbands. Access to contraception is also an issue. Only 15 percent of married and 40 percent of unmarried sexually active adolescents use modern methods of contraception. With such poor use of protection, many of the adolescent girls are vulnerable to getting infected with HIV. Girls who marry early are more likely to suffer abuse and violence, with inevitable psychological as well as physical consequences. Almost three-quarters of girls report to have experienced physical violence prior to the age of 18 by an adult or intimate partner.

The United Nations supported the adoption of the 2009 Law of the Child, and has since supported the development of regulations in order to address both the causes and the consequences of child marriage. Working with the Tanzanian government, UNICEF took part in developing state action plans and supported the establishment of girls’ clubs and collectives that were trained on child rights and how to work with the community to stimulate a dialogue about ending child marriage.

UN Women in cooperation with the Ministry of Community Development, Gender and Children and the Women’s Caucus in Parliament supports the review of laws to domesticate international women’s rights instruments. Multiple legal regimes (Customary, Religious and Statutory) that guide marital affairs in Tanzania have to be addressed in order to protect the girl child through full compliance with internationally recommended minimum legal age of marriage at 18.

“We will continue our work with government and other partners for a Tanzania where girls can live free from fear, violence and discrimination. We stand beside you in support of your rights,” says Anna Collins-Falk, UN Women Representative.

Experiences in contexts as diverse as Bangladesh, Burkina  Faso, Djibouti, Ethiopia, India, Niger, Senegal and Somalia show how combining legal measures with support to communities, providing viable alternatives – especially schooling – and enabling communities to discuss and reach the explicit, collective decision to end child marriage, yields positive results.

“Child marriage is an appalling violation of human rights and robs girls of their education, health and long-term prospects. A girl who is married as a child is one whose potential will not be fulfilled. Since many parents and communities also want the very best for their daughters, we must work together and end child marriage,” said Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, UNFPA Executive Director.

Education is one of the most effective strategies to protect children against marriage. When girls are able to stay in school an attitudinal change can also occur towards their opportunities within the community.

The proportion of child brides has decreased over the last 30 years but child marriage persists at high rates in several regions of the world, particularly in rural areas and among the poorest. Young brides are often isolated – removed from immediate families, taken out of school and denied interaction with their peers and communities. Most recent UNICEF estimates indicate that approximately 70 million — or around 1 in 3 — young women around the world aged 20-24 were married before age 18, with 23 million of them having been married before they turned 15. Global¬ly, almost 400 million women aged 20-49, or over 40 percent, were married while they were children.

Tanzania has one of the highest child marriage prevalence rates in the world. On average, almost two out of five girls will be married before their 18th birthday. In 2010, about 37 percent of the women aged 20-24 were married/in union before age 18. Data shows a 10 percent decline since 2004 (41 percent).

While child marriage is common in Tanzania, prevalence is highest in Shinyanga (59 percent), followed by Tabora (58 percent), Mara (55 percent), Dodoma (51 percent), Lindi (48 percent), Mbeya (45 percent), Morogoro (42 percent), Singida (42 percent), Rukwa (40 percent), Ruvuma (39 percent), Mwanza (37 percent), Kagera (36 percent), Mtwara (35 percent), Manyara (34 percent), Pwani (33 percent), Tanga (29 percent), Arusha (27 percent), Kilimanjaro (27 percent), Kigoma (26 percent), Dar es Salaam (19 percent) and Iringa (8 percent).

Urgent action is needed to take solutions to scale and prevent the thousands of girls in Tanzania today from being married in the next decade(s). In 2010, 764,000 women aged 20-24 were married/in union before age 18. If present trends continue, 1,382,000 of the young girls born between 2005 and 2010 will be married/in union before age 18 by 2030. This projection is almost double the 2010 estimate of married girls, an increase that is compounded by high fertility and low mortality in the recent past.

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About UN Women
The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women – became operational in January 2011 and builds on the important work of four previous UN entities which focused exclusively on gender equality and women’s empowerment. UN Women is mandated to lead and coordinate UN efforts to ensure commitments to gender equality and gender mainstreaming; to provide strong and coherent leadership in support of Member States through effective partnerships with national mechanisms for gender equality, and to provide guidance and technical support to all Member States, across all levels of development, in all regions. For more information about UN Women and its work in Tanzania visit: www.unwomen.org and www.tz.one.un.org

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About UNICEF
UNICEF works in 190 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. For more information about UNICEF and its work visit www.unicef.org

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

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About UNFPA
United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is an international development agency that aims at delivering a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every child birth is safe, and every young person’s potential is fulfilled. UNFPA has been supporting the government of United Republic of Tanzania since 1975. From that time on, UNFPA has supported the Government and civil society to work on advancing issues related to Reproductive Health and Rights, Gender including gender equality as well as prevention of violence, youth health and development including data collections and management as well as integration of population variables in planning frameworks within Tanzania. UNFPA works within the UN system Delivering as One approach in partnership with other development partners, non-governmental organizations and civil society organizations. For more information about UNFPA and its work in Tanzania visit: www.unfpa.org/endchildmarriage

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