In 2012, activist Canan Arin made a speech acknowledging the tradition of early and forced marriage in Turkey, thus contributing to violence against it’s girls and women. She was then charged with publicly degrading and insulting the President of the Republic. The theme of underage marriage is particularly prominent throughout the film Mustang, highlighting that still today this is a problem for the nation. The sisters’ grandmother makes it her mission to marry each girl off, so that they are no longer her or their uncle’s responsibilities, regardless of their thoughts on suitors or well being.
Canan Arin was a member of the Turkish national platform ‘Say No To Child Brides’ which brings together 50 organisations working to end child marriage in Turkey. It is co-chaired by members of the global partnership Girls Not Brides, who work tirelessly to stop this archaic and painful cycle which continues across the globe. I spoke to Maryam Mohsin from the London office about their work...
BH: For those who have not heard of Girls Not Brides, could you explain briefly who you are and what you do.
MM: Girls Not Brides is a global partnership of more than 600 civil society organisations from over 80 countries committed to ending child marriage and enabling girls to fulfil their potential. Members are based throughout Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Europe and the Americas. Girls Not Brides members bring child marriage to global attention, build an understanding of what it will take to end child marriage and call for the laws, policies and programmes that will make a difference in the life of millions of girls.
BH: What is the ethos of Girls Not Brides?
MM: Girls Not Brides is committed to ending child marriage. Our aim is to accelerate efforts to prevent child marriage, and support girls who are or have been married, all over the world. We share the conviction that every girl has the right to lead the life that she chooses and that, by ending child marriage, we can achieve a safer, healthier and more prosperous future for all.
Every girl has the right to lead the life that she chooses and that, by ending child marriage, we can achieve a safer, healthier and more prosperous future for all.
In working to end child marriage, we believe that social change cannot succeed without community engagement. Members of Girls Not Brides work together to enhance and strengthen efforts to end child marriage at community, local, national and global levels.
BH: Which countries have the highest rates of young brides, where are your biggest problem areas?
MM: Niger has the highest rate of child marriage in the world. Every 3 in 4 girls (76%) marry before their 18th birthday. Central African Republic follows closely behind with 68% of girls marrying under the age of 18.
Our current focus countries are Nepal, Mozambique, and Zambia, all of which have very high levels of child marriage, where 40% girls on average are married before the age of 18. All three countries have developed national strategies to end child marriage, but momentum needs to be sustained to make sure these are fully funded and resourced.
BH: How do you work to lower the number of underage marriages worldwide?
MM: Firstly, we believe that it is only by raising our collective voices and engaging in joint advocacy that we can bring child marriage to global and national attention. We are louder and stronger when we act together. We have proven success in this arena – members have successfully advocated on getting a Human Rights Council resolution to end child marriage as well as pushing for a target on ending child marriage in the Sustainable Development Goals. On the issue of child marriage in particular, it is very important that we are a diverse network made up of very different organisations, each approaching child marriage in different ways (e.g. some members take a strong legal approach by lobbying for raising the legal age of marriage to 18 and offering free legal advice to girls attempting to get out of underage marriages, others are doing grassroots and community mobilisation; some youth organisations focus on working with young people directly, some address child marriage through a health lens; other members focus on education).
BH: What projects are you working on at the moment?
MM: We are working on a number of projects at the moment. We are about to release a music video in time for Day of the African Child in the hope that this will help mainstream the issue of child marriage, and provide a tool to open up conversations within communities and amongst young people.
We have a number of short films which will soon be available which show what child marriage looks like in Nepal from the perspective of 17-year-old girls.
Our 5 year anniversary will also be taking place later this year, which will provide us with a great opportunity to reflect on our progress towards ending child marriage, but also what more needs to be done.
We are continuously working with our members to provide opportunities, services and support that is directly relevant to their needs. Through Girls Not Brides, members gain access to valuable information about upcoming events, learning opportunities, training, funding opportunities and strategic advocacy moments.
We also build an understanding of what it is going to take to end child marriage through the work of our learning team – documentation of best practice and facilitating sharing of solutions all helps to ensure our members have access to the most up to date information and research available.
BH: What do you think is at the core of child marriage - where do its roots lie, and why is it such a problem?
MM: Child marriage is rooted in gender inequality and the belief that girls and women are somehow inferior to boys and men. Poverty, lack of education, cultural practices, and insecurity fuel and sustain the practice.
Causes of child marriage will vary from one community to the next and the practice may look different across regions and countries, even within the same country.
For example, in many communities where child marriage is practised, girls are not valued as much as boys – they are seen as a burden on their family. Marrying your daughter at a young age can be viewed as a way to ease economic hardship by transferring this ‘burden’ to her husband’s family. Where poverty is acute, families and sometimes girls themselves believe that marriage will be a solution to secure their future.
Child marriage is also a traditional practice that in many places happens simply because it has happened for generations. In some communities, when girls start to menstruate, they become women in the eyes of the community. Marriage is therefore the next step towards giving a girl her status as a wife and mother.
During a humanitarian crises, such as in conflict or after a natural disaster, parents may see marrying of their daughters as the best way of ensuring her safety.
BH: How can we work together to raise awareness and end child marriage?
MM: Working together is the most important method of raising awareness about child marriage. Girls Not Brides works hard to communicate often with its members, because a sense of togetherness and awareness of events is key to understanding child marriage, and in turn, developing successful ways to end the practice. Keeping abreast of major events, and spreading messages on social media keeps conversations around child marriage going, and this ultimately results in the issue becoming a conscious concern for law and policy-makers. Sign up to our mailing list for our newsletter and follow us on Twitter and Facebook to support the work we are doing. Also, donate to grassroots organisations who are working directly on this issue – they are the ones who not only know the issue, but also know what needs to be done to address it.
BH: What advice would you give to anybody who feels threatened by the prospect of under age marriage?
MM: We would encourage young girls to speak to a teacher or someone they can trust. We also work very closely with a number of organisations who may be able to either assist or put young people in touch with the appropriate authorities.
BH: How can people get involved and support Girls Not Brides?
MM: Follow us on social media to watch out for events and our members’ events, so you are able to take part. In addition, donations are a vital part to many of our grassroots members’ sustainability, and so donating to their projects helps our members continue their work to end child marriage. Sharing facts and raising awareness on child marriage also helps promote voices all over the world that are calling for the end of child marriage.
BH: What’s been your biggest success story?
MM: Child marriage was a taboo subject just a few years ago. We have made huge progress over a very short period of time. Now, we have a target on ending child marriage in the Global Goals for Sustainable Development. Last year, the United Nations Human Rights Council unanimously adopted a resolution co-sponsored by over 85 States to strengthen efforts to prevent and eliminate child, early and forced marriage. The resolution was the first-ever substantive resolution on child marriage adopted by the Council.
More recently, the Southern African Development Community-Parliamentary Forum (SADC-PF), adopted a Model Law which has the potential to shape how the region addresses child marriage. The Model Law will provide guidance to parliamentarians, ministries of justice, policymakers, and other stakeholders in SADC countries as they develop national laws to end child marriage.