Act now or face 100 more years of child mar­riage, econ­o­mists warn

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - EVENTS - By Is­abelle Ger­ret­sen

LON­DON, Dec 8 ( Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion) - It will take 100 years to end child mar­riage if cur­rent trends con­tinue, econ­o­mists warned on Fri­day, urg­ing gov­ern­ments to spend more on tack­ling a prob­lem that af­fects 12 mil­lion girls ev­ery year. A study by the Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment ( OECD) found global rates of child mar­riage were de­clin­ing so slowly the world would miss a tar­get of erad­i­cat­ing the prac­tice by 2030 by many decades. It will also miss a goal of erad­i­cat­ing fe­male gen­i­tal mu­ti­la­tion ( FGM) by that date, the OECD said in its So­cial In­sti­tu­tions and Gen­der In­dex ( SIGI). “Progress in elim­i­nat­ing both prac­tices is too slow as peo­ple, in­clud­ing women some­times, are not ready to aban­don them,” the OECD said in a state­ment emailed to the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion. “Rais­ing aware­ness should be a key pri­or­ity of gen­der- sen­si­tive poli­cies.” Re­searchers said gov­ern­ments in af­fected coun­tries needed to do more to change the so­cial at­ti­tudes that favour FGM and child mar­riage. In Burk­ina Faso, for ex­am­ple, 44 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion thinks a girl should be mar­ried be­fore she is 18. “To make real progress on this is­sue we need to ad­dress its root cause,” said Lak­shmi Sun­daram, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of cam­paign group Girls Not Brides. “We need to change so­cial norms, to ad­dress head- on the be­lief that girls are not as valu­able as boys, and that their only role in so­ci­ety is to be­come wives and moth­ers.” The SIGI as­sesses the im­pact of dis­crim­i­na­tory laws, so­cial norms and prac­tices on the lives of women and girls in 180 coun­tries, us­ing 2017 data from na­tional surveys and lo­cal le­gal ex­perts. It found 39 per­cent of women suf­fered FGM in 29 coun­tries in Africa and Asia and 23 per­cent be­lieve the prac­tice should con­tinue. FGM, which af­fects an es­ti­mated 200 mil­lion girls world­wide, in­volves the partial or to­tal re­moval of the fe­male gen­i­talia and can cause chronic pain, men­strual prob­lems and in­fer­til­ity. Some girls bleed to death or die from in­fec­tions. How­ever Ju­lia Lalla- Ma­harajh, founder of the Orchid Project, said sig­nif­i­cant progress had been made in stop­ping FGM. “We know that girls are a third less likely to be cut now than they were 30 years ago,” she said. In West Africa, more than 8,500 vil­lages have aban­doned both FGM and child mar­riage due to ef­forts of grass­roots ini­tia­tives, she added. More gov­ern­ment fund­ing should go to­wards grass­roots or­gan­i­sa­tions work­ing to end child mar­riage and em­pow­er­ing sur­vivors to speak up, cam­paign­ers said. “They are bust­ing the myths within their com­mu­ni­ties around why girls must be cut,” said Shelby Quast, Amer­i­cas di­rec­tor of cam­paign group Equal­ity Now. “As com­mu­ni­ties learn that FGM is not a re­li­gious re­quire­ment, that there is no health ben­e­fit, only life­long harm, they are begin­ning to change.”

We need to change so­cial norms, to ad­dress head-on the be­lief that girls are not as valu­able as boys, and that their only role in so­ci­ety is to be­come wives and moth­ers

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