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UN to mark the First International Day of the Girl Child focusing on early marriage

11 October 2012, Skopje:  Today marks the inaugural International Day of the Girl Child, designated by the United Nations as a day to promote the rights of girls, and to address the unique challenges that they face. For this inaugural day, the United Nations is focusing on the issue of child marriage.

“Investing in girls is a moral imperative” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in New York. It is an obligation under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  It is also critical for achieving the Millennium Development Goals, advancing economic growth and building peaceful, cohesive societies.”

Globally, around 1 in 3 young women aged 20 to 24 -- approximately 70 million -- were married before the age of 18.  Despite a decline in the overall proportion of child brides in the last 30 years, the challenge persists, particularly in rural areas and among the poorest.

Under the slogan “My life, my right, end child marriage”, UN agencies around the globe will showcase efforts to address the plight of many girls who because of early marriage are not able to complete their education, face limited opportunities, and are at greater risks of violence,  abuse and poor health.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that in this country, approximately seven percent of young women aged 20 to 24 were married before the age of 18.  However, this figure masks broad disparities across population groups. Roma girls, for example, are more than five times more likely to be married before the age of 18.  Forty three percent of Roma girls age 20 to 24 were married before the age of 18.

“Girls with low levels of schooling are more likely to be married early, and child marriage has been shown to virtually end the likelihood that a girl will remain in school. 

Conversely, a girl that completes secondary school in this country is up to seven times less likely to marry as a child.  Completing secondary school not only gives girls the academic skills they need, but it is also one of the best strategies for protecting girls and combating child marriage,” said Mr. Sheldon Yett, UNICEF Representative.

Early marriage does not only violate the fundamental rights of girls and young women; it also leads to early pregnancy and poor health. Preventing child marriage will help protect girls’ rights and help reduce risks of violence, early pregnancy, HIV infection and maternal death and disability.

 “The risk of dying from pregnancy-related causes is much higher for girls than older women.  Laws and community actions that support a minimum age for marriage and better access to reproductive health counseling services and contraception will decrease these risks” said Dr Marija Kisman, Head of WHO Country Office in Skopje.

The root causes underlying child marriage must be addressed.These include gender discrimination, poverty, gender gaps in formal education and the perpetuation of certain cultural practices.

An example from this country highlights that the best results are often achieved when activities are led by local grassroots community groups.  Supported by UN Women, local women’s groups have taken an initiative to address cultural values that promote early marriages and to raise awareness on fundamental girls’ and women’s rights and the importance of education for overcoming traditional barriers and empowering girls to become fully contributing members of society.

To mark the occasion in this country, tomorrow, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy will organize a multi-media event on early child marriages. UNFPA will promote three locally produced short documentary films, which provide background and contextual analysis of the issue of early child marriage in different regions in the country, the prevalence of early marriage in urban and rural communities and the state and public institutions’ response.  The event will also include a photo exhibition capturing the storyline of the documentary films on child marriage.

The event will take place tomorrow, 12 October at the Army Hall in Skopje 11:00 to 12:00 and is open to the public. 




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