More Resources and Partnerships Essential to Ending Child Marriage and FGM

Investing in women and the girls should take center stage for the realization of the Africa development agenda

Date: Monday, February 11, 2019


UN Women in collaboration with the Government of the Republic of Zambia and the African Union Commission hosted an African head of states and traditional and cultural Leaders dialogue for renewal of commitment to end child marriage and FGM in Africa. The side event of the AU heads of state summit sought to secure and renew commitments of Heads of State and Government and Traditional and Cultural Leaders to embracing and incorporating transformational approaches that effectively address socio-cultural barriers to end child marriage and FGM/C in Africa by 2030. 


Speaking at the event H.E Edgar Lungu, The President of the Government of Zambia and the African Union Commission champion for ending child marriage empathized the need for governments and cultural institutions to work together to eradicate Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and Child Marriage. He called on the African leaders to create an African Union Trust Fund on ensuring that we end child marriage. These efforts must then be supported through the harmonization of cultural practices with existing statutory laws that enhance the protection of women and girls from child marriage and FGM.


His Excellency President Lungu of Zambia, the African Union Champion for ending child marriage interacts with traditional leaders

President Lungu of Zambia, the African Union Champion for ending child marriage interacts with traditional leaders. Photo: UN Women/ Keneddy Okoth

H.E President Lungu also launched the Council of Traditional Leaders of Africa (COTLA), a pan African platform of male and female traditional and cultural leaders primarily set up to galvanize the voices and actions of these leaders across Africa to transform culture and eliminate negative cultural practices that harm women and girls in Africa.   The platform establishment was based on the need to create an institutionalized dialogue between traditional and cultural leaders and the African Union, regional bodies and governments on preservation of, and harnessing the positive aspects and transformation of culture to end child marriage and FGM/C, informed by deep shared values of human rights and gender equality. The platform was set up to provide space for addressing other emerging issues relevant to their jurisdictions in fast changing world.


The African Union launched a campaign to end Child Marriage in Africa, for which all Africa’s heads of state and government have made commitments.  UN Women in collaboration with other UN agencies has been engaging in interventions to support the African Union campaign. The side event was organized within the framework of the second phase of the African Union campaign to end child marriage (2019 to 2023), the AU Charter for Cultural Renaissance, the Africa Youth Charter, the SDG Target 5:3 – “Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation”; the Maputo Declaration; and the African Union Agenda 2063. It also follows sub-regional consultations that took place in Nairobi, Malawi and Nigeria bringing together traditional and cultural leaders from all over the continent.


The aim of the end child campaign by the African Union Commission marriage is to support national policy action and mobilizing continental affairs. Already this initiative has been launched and implemented in 28 African countries. H.E. Mrs. Amira ElFadil, African Union Commissioner for Social Affairs, welcomed the initiative by UN Women to work with traditional leaders as one way of addressing the problem of child marriage and FGM and other harmful practices. Stating that “Women must be protected, and girls should be kept in school even after being rescued from child marriage. Traditional leaders have an important role that cannot be understated.”   She emphasized that investing in women and the girls should take center stage for the realization of the Africa development agenda.


Many countries in the Sub Saharan Africa have high rates of child marriage. This is despite existence of laws that prohibit child marriage and set minimum marriage ages, the situation persists in part because of the strong traditional and religious practices which make it difficult to enforce the laws. Research has shown that tradition and religion remain the strongest of all the major causes of child marriage. Other reasons established for the perpetuation of child marriage include poverty, gender discrimination, limited education, lack of economic options, insecurity in the face of conflict, child abduction and forced marriage in conflict situations.


Globally, one in every five girls is married, or is in union, before reaching age 18. In the least developed countries, that number doubles – 40 per cent of girls are married before age 18, and 12 per cent of girls are married before age 15. According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, forced and early marriage denies children their right to protection from harmful practices, abuse and exploitation, and takes away their right to develop to their fullest. Most countries have ratified this convention; however, the age of consent varies and is often below the UN recommended age of 18.