By Omar J. Robles, 2y2w Contributor
The United Nations has laid out several frameworks, conventions and resolutions that establish international law and human rights. Some are general, outlining principles that cover all people while leaving for interpretation the details. Some are specific, linking human rights principles to a particular population or issue.
Getting international bodies to do the latter is very often a key goal for advocacy groups and individuals who seek equality and justice. International consensus can fuel national efforts to ensure that all people are able to realize their human rights. Put another way, getting countries to sign UN conventions and resolutions promotes accountability, even if it doesn’t guarantee it.
For the first time ever, we can now add child marriage to the list: more than 100 countries have explicitly stated that child marriage is a human rights violation that must be stopped.
Last month, the UN Human Rights Council — the leading UN body responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights around the world — adopted the first-ever UN resolution on child, early and forced marriage. The move came just two weeks before the second annual International Day of the Girl Child, celebrated this Friday, Oct. 11. A diverse group of 107 countries affirmed that the choice to marry is an adult decision that should be informed and made freely without fear, coercion or undue pressure.
Among those countries that signed the resolution are several that have a relatively high prevalence of child marriage: Ethiopia, South Sudan, Sierra Leone, Chad, Guatemala, Honduras and Yemen.
Previously, UN Agencies, advocacy groups and girls themselves had relied on — and still will — other human rights instruments that reference child marriage, within the context of broader frameworks.
For example, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979) both outlawed child marriage. Additionally, at the International Conference on Population and Development (1994), 197 countries adopted the ICPD Programme of Action, which called on countries to eliminate child marriage and to enforce laws that ensure free and full consent.
Even though policies on paper do not directly translate into changes on the ground, last month’s global consensus marks a shift in awareness about child marriage and the priority attention it deserves. For example, the new UN resolution stresses the need to include child, early and forced marriage in the post-2015 international development agenda.
Progress at international fora, however, cannot overshadow the ongoing struggles that child brides and young girls vulnerable to marriage still face. Decades have passed since countries first signed human rights documents that affirm child marriage is a violation of girls’ universal human rights. During this time, millions of girls have married, especially in poor and rural parts of countries in the developing world.
As UN-Secretary General Ban Ki-moon asserted in his recent annual report to the UN General Assembly, “The practice of child marriage must be ended everywhere.” Advocates agree, including young girls and child brides who live in countries that did not sign the UN resolution last month. They’ve agreed for years.
It’s now time to move beyond consensus to action; we know the solutions.