14 July, 2014 - Australia must act now to end child marriage: new report

The Australian Federal government must take the lead to end child marriage, a practice that denies the human rights of millions of children in Australia and overseas and condemns girls in the developing world to poverty, abuse and even death, says child-rights organisation Plan International Australia in a major new report.

Written in conjunction with Anti-Slavery Australia, <link> Just Married, Just a Child: Child Marriage in the Indo-Pacific Region

The Australian Federal government must take the lead to end child marriage, a practice that denies the human rights of millions of children in Australia and overseas and condemns girls in the developing world to poverty, abuse and even death, says child-rights organisation Plan International Australia in a major new report.

Written in conjunction with Anti-Slavery Australia, Just Married, Just a Child: Child Marriage in the Indo-Pacific Region urges the government to play a key role in ending child marriage through its foreign aid program and by advocating for a UN General Assembly resolution to end the practice.

Ian Wishart, CEO of Plan International Australia, says at least 14 million girls under the age of 18 are married each year – nearly 39,000 a day. These girls typically drop out of education and often fall pregnant before their bodies are fully developed – and 50,000 teenagers a year die due to complications in pregnancy or childbirth.

“Our report looks at girls like Sherina from Bangladesh, who at just 24 has been pregnant 11 times, has suffered six miscarriages and lost five babies. Sherina is not alone – sadly, there are millions of girls around the world just like her,” Wishart says.

“The report also tells the story of ‘Ms Elia’, whose parents married her off in Australia at the age of just 14 to a man who was older than 18. After the ceremony, she tried to continue her education, but her husband burnt her homework and forced her out of school,” Wishart says.

“Child marriage is driven by beliefs about the rights of and status of girls, who are too often seen as having little value outside the traditional role of wife and mother – whether that’s here or in the developing world.”

Jennifer Burn, Director of Anti-Slavery Australia at UTS, says: “In Australia, the practices of child and forced marriage are under-researched and underreported. A best-practice response means developing good laws and protocols, especially dealing with child protection issues.”

“There is a need for more research, training of front-line workers, and, most importantly, community awareness and the development of effective support programs.”

Wishart says: “Child marriage in Australia is inextricably linked to child marriage overseas, so the most effective way to end it here is to tackle the problem at its root and that’s by ending it in the developing world. Australia can change the story for girls everywhere by stepping up and taking the lead to end child marriage.”

The report urges the government to use its foreign aid program to specifically address child marriage and promote girls’ access to quality education, to work with development partner governments and support civil society programs to end the practice and advocate for a UN General Assembly resolution. It also calls on the government to ensure that 2015’s post-Millennium Development Goals include a target to end child marriage.

“As well as paying an unimaginable personal price, girls who are married as children also find themselves locked out of education and locked into a cycle of poverty. Supporting girls to secure their rights is one of the most effective ways Australia can help countries in the developing world work their way out of poverty.”

“Just last month, we saw teenager in Pakistan set alight and killed after she and her family refused a marriage proposal from a 22-year-old man. This horrific episode shows that girls, and often their families, are trying to resist child marriage and the Australian government can play a crucial role in helping them,” Wishart says.

The public is also being asked to play an important role in ending child marriage by visiting Plan's Facebook page to sign a petition calling on the government to act. The petition will be presented to the government in August.

Visitors can also watch a powerful new short film highlighting the need to end child marriage, as well as view an online exhibition of compelling photos depicting child brides from around the world.

Download the report Just Married, Just a Child: Child Marriage in the Indo-Pacific Region.

Download the film for broadcast Lamana's Story.

To download photos, including those in the online exhibition: http://bit.ly/1ncjNIZ

Editors’ notes:

Plan is one of the oldest and largest children's development organisations in the world, founded 75 years ago, working in 48 developing countries across Africa, Asia and the Americas and supported by 20 donor countries. Plan is independent, with no religious, political or governmental affiliations.

Media contact: Adam Cathro, Plan International Australia, Media Relations Manager, 0488 202 945