Honourable Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection, AU Commissioner for Social Affairs, traditional and religious leaders, development partners, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, and, most importantly, the young girls here today representing countries across Africa!
It’s an honour to be here today to speak on behalf of development partners - and particularly the European Union, the Netherlands, Canada and the UK - at this important second African Girls Summit on Ending Child Marriage.
The theme of this Summit says it all: Enough with the silence: It is high time to act.
As development partners we are proud of our work to date to help eradicate child marriage: the establishment of Girls not Brides in 2011, the first global Girls’ Summit led by the UK in 2014, the AU girls’ summit in Zambia in 2015 and now to this important moment, this second AU summit in Ghana.
We are also proud of all the initiatives undertaken by the youth themselves, by organisations of traditional leaders, by the UN family, development partners, NGOs and civil society organisations in so many countries.
All of these initiatives shine a global spotlight and rally a movement to end child and forced marriage and female genital mutilation everywhere.
For girls across the African continent, their adolescent years often see their worlds shrinking rather than expanding.
For many girls, adolescence is a time of vulnerability, with little control and choice over their lives. It is also a time when young girls are considerably disadvantaged compared to boys.
Their educational opportunities are cut short so that they can work at home or marry early and begin bearing children – all of which restricts further their already limited social networks and economic capabilities.
As we have heard over the last two days, over 650 million women alive today were married during their adolescent years.
If current trends continue, over the next decade 150 million girls will be married before their 18th birthday.
The sheer scale of these numbers is shocking. But when we simply talk about numbers, we are doing a disservice to what they actually mean. Each number represents a young girl who has the fundamental right to make decisions that affect her life, but who has been prevented from exercising that right.
Every single one of those individual girls matters.
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Through the Global Programme to End Child Marriage, the UK alongside the Netherlands, the European Union, Canada, UNICEF and UNFPA supports 12 priority countries with a high prevalence of child marriage.
Ghana is one of those countries; along with seven other African nations.
Because of our joint support, more than 4.8 million people have joined in programmes to better understand the value of girls and the risks of child marriage.
A number of bilateral donors, as well as private donors, are also supporting Girls Not Brides and a civil society programme, Amplify Change, to strengthen grassroots movements to end child marriage.
The UK has spearheaded efforts to end child marriage and harmful cultural practices. We are also tackling the broader barriers that girls face to achieving their potential, and providing them with opportunities to thrive…
In the last two years alone, the UK’s Department for International Development has supported at least 5.6 million girls across the world to gain a decent education.
Last year at the Global Family Planning Summit we committed to ensuring that all of the UK’s family planning programmes include a specific focus on adolescents.
And just yesterday, the UK’s International Development Secretary announced a new UK aid package of £50 million to support the African-led movement to end the devastating and harmful practice of female genital mutilation by 2030.
This is the biggest single investment to date by any international donor and comes ahead of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women tomorrow which forms part of the 16 Days of Activism which will end on the 10th December – Human Rights Day.
But, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Huge challenges remain. The AU Commissioner of Social Affairs in her opening remarks yesterday highlighted the need to accelerate our efforts so that change can happen faster and at a much greater scale.
Girls and women across the world continue to face discrimination and disadvantage in so many aspects of their lives. And nowhere is this more starkly experienced than through child marriage.
We know the alternative is so much better…girls make good choices if we let them. Girls and boys will make even better informed choices if they have access to good quality education that includes good quality comprehensive sexuality education.
The pre-Summit this week was able to do just that. It provided a safe space and a platform for youth to interact in person, and on social media, to share their experiences with stakeholders and demand change.
The outcome document developed by the youth during this Summit, highlights some key demands from African governments including:
- strengthening policy implementation;
- increasing engagement with community leaders;
- increasing budgetary allocation;
- strengthening girl-centred sex education and adolescent-friendly SRHR;
- and, making menstrual hygiene a national priority for all girls.
We hear also the call on development partners to strengthen coordination and collaboration and support the financial empowerment of survivors of child marriage.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Empowering youth, and girls in particular, should be a top priority for all of us, not least for the governments and communities in countries that still show a high prevalence of child marriage.
As development partners, we are very happy to hear that the government of Ghana will increase domestic financing to tackle child marriage. The Ministry of Gender will commit 3% of the Ministry’s budget towards the operationalisation of the National Strategic Framework to Ending Child Marriage.
This commitment will help to ensure no girl is left behind in Ghana and will help to realise His Excellency the President’s vision in which all Ghanaians actively contribute towards the socio-economic development of the country to create a self-reliant Ghana Beyond Aid.
Other governments are making their own commitments to tackling child marriage.
I trust that, through an event like this one, the AU can take the lead in ensuring that all African governments follow Ghana’s good example and increase domestic financing.
As has been said yesterday, it is crucial that we all act together: youth, parents, teachers, political leaders, government ministries (of health, education, gender, social affairs, economic affairs and finance), community leaders, religious leaders, civil society organisations, national as well as international, multilateral organisations and professional bodies.
We need a coordinated, multi-actor and multi-sectoral approach. After all, addressing child marriage is about gender equality, about education, about sexual and reproductive health and rights, justice, social protection…
Above all, it is crucial to listen to young people, ensure their voices are heard and amplified. Enough with the silence.
On behalf of the European Union, the Netherlands, Canada and the UK - we want to recognize the leadership of African governments, the AU and civil society in tackling child marriage.
I want to highlight that strong leadership from Africa was instrumental to the successful adoption of the UN resolution last week on ending child, early and forced marriage, co-led by Zambia and Canada.
We applaud the African Union for continuing taking the initiative to help countries to make strategic action plans in order to implement the different child marriage prevention laws.
I’d like to thank also the Government of Ghana for co-hosting this event and all those involved in making this event such a success.
Be assured that empowering girls and women will remain a top priority for development partners.
We must end the silence on child marriage and other harmful traditional practices.
We must all work together, in partnership, to build a safer, healthier and more prosperous world for our young people…
Ensuring…above all…that we leave no girl behind