From UVA to the UN, it’s time for the U.S. to lead for girls

Article Date

27 November 2014

Article Author

Lyric Thompson

Media Contact

Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

Last week the United Nations took a stand for the 15 million girls who are married off as children each year: it resolved that all countries should pass legislation to end the practice of child marriage, and pledged to make ending child marriage by 2030 a core part of the sustainable development goals to be developed by the United Nations in 2015.

As an advocate working specifically to push the United States Government for elevated commitment on this issue, I am particularly pleased that the U.S. was one of the 118 co-sponsors of this resolution. Although it is not plagued by the dizzying rates of child marriage that are found in such countries as Niger, where 3 out of every 4 girls is married before her 18th birthday, or India, which is home to the highest number of child brides, the U.S. has an important role to play on the international stage. It is one of the leading donors globally to such causes as international reproductive health and family planning, education and food security—all of which are undermined by the practice that has claimed some 720 million of women alive today. Child brides have by comparison lower education rates, higher rates of maternal mortality and morbidity, higher risk of violence and sexually transmitted infection, and higher mortality rates among their children.

Most importantly, child marriage is an egregious violation of human rights, and the United States has increasingly sought to position itself as a global leader there, particularly for women and girls. These last few years the Obama administration has been busy rolling out national strategies to end gender-based violence, protect women in conflict and empower women as peace-builders, and craft a much-anticipated, forthcoming strategy on adolescent girls. On the domestic front, the Obama Administration has worked to promote women’s access to healthcare, equal pay and stricter enforcement of sexual assault on university campuses, the recent reports of which have been particularly appalling.

From outrage over the abductions of Nigerian schoolgirls to horror at the national scandal of campus sexual assault, the American public is clearly ready for the U.S. to take up the mantle of girls’ rights at home and abroad. This means more than co-sponsoring a U.N. resolution or setting up a task force; it means investing in proven strategies that will end violence, exploitation and abuse, working actively to change discriminatory attitudes and stamp out sexism, from our homes, our churches, our schools, and our streets.

I’m glad to see the U.S. co-sponsoring the child marriage resolution; it should continue its advocacy at the U.N. and ensure the commitment to end child marriage by 2030 doesn’t get watered down when governments negotiate development priorities next year. The U.S. is writing a strategy focusing specifically on how it will promote girls’ rights in foreign policy—child marriage should be at the center of this strategy, and the U.S. shouldn’t shy away from things we know work to end it, like providing comprehensive sexuality education so girls know their bodies, their rights and how to protect them.

USAID sent its Administrator to a global Girl Summit in London this summer to show the world how strongly it holds its commitment to end harmful practices like child marriage and female genital mutilation, but it failed to meet the U.K.’s own investment of nearly $100 million into efforts to end these practices. It will take a unified effort, with the funding to back it up, if we’re to give every girl a fair shot at a happy, healthy future where she gets to decide what she wants to be, if or who she wants to marry, and how she wants to live her life.

Anything short of that is simply too little, too late.

This piece was originally published on Thomson Reuters Foundation’s website on November 26, 2014.