A new report by the charity Plan UK warns the issue of forced and early child marriage continues to be of grave concern world wide and says the UK government must step in to help end this problem.
Called Breaking Vows, the study highlights that one girl is married off every three-and-a-half seconds worldwide, and that in places like Niger, Mali and Chad 70% of girls are married earl y,and will likely conceive not long after only to then struggle through a childbirth they are physically and mentally not prepared for — if they survive at all. The report also says that early marriage puts girls in danger of life-long health complications as well as a greater risk of contracting HIV.
While acknowledging Britain’s role in tackling early and forced marriage internationally, Plan is calling on the UK government to do more.
“Why is the international community so silent when so many girls are forced to marry when they are still children?” asks Plan’s chief executive in the UK, Marie Staunton
“Now is the time to act of this abuse of human rights – marriage often spells the end of a girl’s education. She’s also less likely to send her own children to school – perpetuating the poverty cycle.
“Child marriage is a practice embedded in many cultures and traditions – all too often it also increases after humanitarian disasters.”
But early and forced marriage is not confined to poor countries. The UK government’s Forced Marriage Unit received more than 1,700 calls from at-risk girls last year.
“What links girls and young women coerced into wedlock in these countries is the denial of choices,” says Ms Staunton.
“We believe the human rights of children and young people should always be upheld whether they are in the UK or the developing world.”
The report warns that young LGBTs may be especially vulnerable to forced marriages as parents rush to partner them off over fears surrounding their sexual orientation. This ties to problems of parents forcing religious, social and cultural standards upon children at a young age and, when those children do not adhere to said moral codes, parents taking away their a child’s right to choose altogether.
“All young people have the right to decide when and who to marry,“ says Rowan Harvey, policy and advocacy officer for Plan UK.
“Along with corrective rape, forced marriage as a strategy for altering a young person’s sexual orientation is a gross violation of their rights.”
The UK government’s Forced Marriage Unit has reported a growing number of calls from young LGBT people.
Overall, the centre received more than 1,700 requests for help last year.
“The problem is dramatically under-reported and affects young people across the globe, in developed and developing countries,” explains Ms Harvey.
As a signatory to key international human rights initiatives, and with a record of vocal support for women’s rights both legislatively and through donor support, the UK is “uniquely placed” to champion a girls’ right to an education and to ensuring their right to choose when and if to marry, says the report.
As such, Plan UK wants the UK government to do more to help combat child marriage and forced marriages. Plan UK is calling on the government to prioritize the issue on the international agenda, to implement cross-government actions plans to combat forced and early marriage, to prioritize overseas aid with an emphasis on encouraging recipients to allow young girls to be sent to school rather than being married off, and to ensure new support services for girls wanting to escape early or forced marriages.
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