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What role for EP in ending child marriage?

17 April 2014
Child marriage is a violation of children’s human rights. It is estimated that one in three girls in the developing world will be married by her eighteenth birthday. If nothing is done to stop current trends, an extra 230 million will be child brides by 2030. As a result of Plan International’s work to end child marriage, Plan EU Office was invited to brief the Development Committee in the European Parliament (EP) on this issue.

Tanya Cox, Senior Policy and Advocacy Manager for Plan International EU Office at the European Parliament

The factors that lead to child marriage are complex, and may vary from context to context. Social norms and tradition, sometimes reinforced by discriminatory legislation, are strongly associated with this practice, as they drive gender inequality.  Women and girls are quite simply valued much less than boys and men.

Child marriage is besides fuelled by poor socio-economic conditions. Poverty both drives and results from child marriage. If a family is poor, a girl child is seen as an economic burden. Marrying her off means there’s one less mouth to feed, and/or a much-needed income in the form of a dowry. Once the girl gets married, it will be unlikely that she goes back to school and completes her education -and therefore difficult that she improves her life skills. This will increase the education gap between boys and girls, and the likelihood that the girl and her family will live in poverty.

As a result of Plan International’s work to end child marriage, Plan EU Office was invited to brief the Development Committee in the European Parliament (EP) on this issue.  Tanya Cox, Senior Advocacy Manager, gave a series of recommendations on how the EP can play a bigger role in ending this practice.

Holding the Commission to account for its expenditures

If one thing is clear, keeping girls in school is crucial. Girls becoming independent and self-reliant through education and empowerment, is key to ending child marriage. Therefore, it is particularly important to ensure that the European Commission (EC) carries on supporting education programmes, increasing its focus onto secondary education – the moment when girls are most likely to drop out and/or be married off.

The EP can hold the Commission to account for its expenditures and their impact made. “Moreover, members of the European Parliament (MEPs) should call on the EC to create budget lines specifically dedicated to children and for it to enhance its investment in social protection and youth economic empowerment programmes,” said Tanya Cox.

Ensuring the Human Rights Action Plan is more strategic 

The EU’s Action Plan on Human Rights includes, as one of its specific action points, the launch of a campaign on child, early and forced marriage. The campaign is currently delayed, so MEPs should call on the European External Action Service (EEAS) to urge them to launch the campaign.

What’s more, as the action plan will need to be updated in the near future, Plan urges MEPs to call on the EEAS to take a more strategic approach to children’s rights than is currently the case. “Taking longer-term, more comprehensive action is more beneficial to children than short-term campaigns; the EU must recognise the links between children’s rights,” Tanya Cox stressed.

Calling for a children’s rights focus during delegation visits

Cox urged MEPs to bring children’s rights into focus during delegation trips. Meeting with local children’s organisations to raise awareness of valuing girls equally to boys, of the importance of keeping girls in school, and - of course – of preventing child marriage, owing to its disastrous impacts for girls, could have a positive impact.

“You could also be very helpful if you were to raise with officials, with your local parliamentary counterparts, the fact of needing quality legislation to ban child marriage. You could call for a gender review of all legislation to make sure it is not discriminatory against girls and women, and you could reinforce messages on education, social protection, job opportunities for women, be promoting birth registration,” she concluded.


Editor's notes

Plan International works with children, families and communities to change attitudes and behaviours which lead to child marriage. It also works with governments to draw up action plans that, among other things, ensure that national legislation makes 18 the minimum age for marriage, for boys and girls, with or without parental consent.

Plan’s Because I am a Girl campaign aims to support millions of girls to get the education, skills and support they need to transform their lives and the world around them. As part of that campaign, we are working to reduce child marriage across the world.