Around the world, girls are severely deprived when it comes to education. At the 29th session of the UN Human Rights Council , the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) underlined the role child marriage plays in blocking girls’ access to education – both legally and practically.
Rates of child marriage peak in Niger at a prevalence of 76%, and it still exists in states where the practice is outlawed, as ghettoised communities continue to either informally marry girls or send them abroad only to return married and often pregnant.
During a discussion on “realising the equal right to education by every girl”, the IHEU argued that girls’ access to education is key to ensuring they have futures as independent, productive and healthy individuals, and suggested that one step to ensure this is to address child marriage head on, by repealing discriminatory laws – most notably those allowing children to marry before the age of 18, and by educating girls, boys and communities.
Keeping girls out of marriage helps to ensure they remain in school – and go on to choose whether they wish to marry and have children.
Our statement was delivered by Josephine Macintosh and follows below in full:
International Humanist and Ethical Union
United Nations Human Rights Council, 29th Session (15th June – 3rd July 2015)
Panel discussion on realising the equal enjoyment of the right to education by every girl
An educated girl has the skills and power to change both hers and her family’s circumstances. This panel singled out child, early and forced marriage and we would like to stress its importance.
It means that 15 million girls are expected to marry not study. They are viewed as commodities. Their role as potential educators is ignored. How can illiterate mothers be expected to raise engaged children? Their potential as loving parents is disrespected. How can they inspire confidence in children who are the product of forced pregnancy? Child brides not only eliminate 50% of a country’s economic potential, the practice also undermines their children’s and communities’ potential.
All countries are affected by child marriage, whether legalised or arising unlawfully within communities. There has been some shy success. In Malawi, marriage under 18 has finally been outlawed; the UK reiterated its commitment through its Modern Slavery Act, and civil society groups in Pakistan are focusing on educating boys. On the contrary, Bangladesh, for example, delivered a swift blow by attempting to lower the marriage age to 16. States repeatedly fail to tackle entrenched practices based on displaced concepts of community, tradition and honour.
Child marriage guillotines girls’ access to education. We hope this panel will give it due attention. Similarly, girls’ right to education should be highlighted in the upcoming resolution on child, early and forced marriage.
 Concept note (as of 10 June 2015), Panel discussion on realizing the equal enjoyment of the right to education by every girl, 29th session of the Human Rights Council.
 Top ten countries with highest rates of child marriage: Niger, Central African Republic, Chad, Bangladesh, Mali, Guinea, South Sudan, Burkina Faso, Malawi, Mozambique. Source: Vogelstein, R, Ending Child Marriage, “How elevating the status of girls advances US foreign policy objectives”, Council on Foreign Relations, 2013.