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USAID: Ending Child Marriage and Meeting the Needs of Married Children

Published October 1, 2012

The U.S. Agency for International Development released its vision for action against child marriage in October 2012.

Excerpt from the report:

Building upon research into best practices for addressing child marriage, USAID will focus on key sectoral interventions, recognizing that integrating interventions in and across multiple sectors and engaging girls and boys, as well as families and communities, are most effective.

Additionally, interventions must be designed bearing in mind that promoting girls' empowerment in numerous contexts (socially, economically, and politically) will enable girls and their famil ies and communit ies to reject early marriage as an option. The following key principles will guide USAID efforts:

CULTIVATE PARTNERSHIPS BROADLY Ending and responding to child marriage requires the commitment, involvement and collaboration of a diverse network of partners, who bring unique perspectives, skills, and resources to face a daunting challenge. USAID's intervention must be leveraged by the efforts of host governments and the private sector . Governments need to uphold the international treaties they signed and ensure the rights of children by enforcing laws within their countries. Private organizations and international non- governmental organizations (NGOs) can elevate the need to end child marriage by making it a priority and dedicating resources to the effort. Working with lawmakers and parliamentarians is also critical, as they can promote enactment, implementation, and enforcement of laws and policies that discourage child marriage. Community leaders, traditional leaders, and members of law enforcement and the judicial community have critical contributions to make in implementing and enforcing laws passed.

MOBILIZE COMMUNITIES TO SHIFT NORMS THAT PERPETUATE CHILD MARRIAGE Often, child marriage is considered a private family matter, governed by religion and culture. In some cases, child marriages are pursued by families as a social and/or economic imperative. In other cases, child marriages are used to consolidate relations between families, secure deals over land or other pro perty, or even to settle disputes. Other times, families present child marriage as a viable and necessary way to protect girls from sexual violence or the consequences of unprotected pre-marital sex, including becoming unwed mothers who are vulnerable to abandonment and ostracism in their communities. Programming efforts, therefore, must be sensitive to cultural context in tackling complex economic issues and deep-rooted social norms, attitudes, and practices. As such, it becomes absolutely essential to en gage with communities in finding locally appropriate strategies for ending child marriage. Local civil society and NGOs are important to the cause as they can mobilize their communities and encourage children, youth, and adults to participate in developing programs at the national, regional, and community levels.

Working in partnership with parents is also essential, as child marriage is often a consequence of the constraints and stresses experienced by families as a result of poverty, displacement, or societal pressures. Working with parents to transform attitudes and identify viable alternatives that advance the interests of individual children and the well- being of the entire family is critical to ensuring that interventions have positive, sustainable results. Engaging men, particularly fathers and brothers will be necessary. Interventions that involve fathers and religious and traditional leaders broaden understanding of the dangers of child marriage, and the long-term benefits of education and economic opportunities. Equally important is reaching out to boys at a young age to encourage equitable gender attitudes and norms so that they can be allies in preventing child marriage and change agents within their communities.

Finally, interventions should leverage the role of women and girls as change agents within their societies. Women and girls must be recognized as more than victims or people at risk. Because they are closest to the problem, they will have particular insights helpful in finding solution s. They must have a voice in decision -making and be allowed to become leaders in national-, regional-, and community-level decision processes, enabled to speak out to advance their own rights.

ADDRESS THE UNIQUE NEEDS OF MARRIED CHILDREN IN PROGRAMS Married girls are among the most vulnerable and marginalized, often isolated from family, social, and support networks, with very little education and decision-making power. Often the spouses of much older (and sexually experienced) men, young brides are more likely to begin early and frequent childbearing, experience partner violence, and become exposed to HIV and other sexually transmitted infections . Efforts should be made to ensure that these girls are also provided with opportunities to thrive within their societies . To address the needs of married children, existing interventions should be expanded to enhance married girls' and boys' educational opportunities, social networks, economic assets, negotiating skills, and access to health and other social services. These efforts should always be designed to take into account the power dynamics behind male and female relationships, in part to avoid placing married children at additional risk.

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