Mary Robinson and Geeta Rao Gupta discuss the Council on Foreign Relations report, Ending Child Marriage: How Elevating the Status of Girls Advances U.S. Foreign Policy Objectives. In the report, author Rachel B. Vogelstein argues that ending child marriage is not only a moral obligation--it is a strategic imperative that will further critical U.S. foreign policy interests in development, prosperity, stability, and the rule of law.
RACHEL VOGELSTEIN: Welcome, everyone, to the Council on Foreign Relations. We are here tonight to mark the release of the first-ever report on child marriage from the council, and we are very fortunate to have a distinguished panel of experts here to talk about why this issue matters to development, prosperity and stability around the world.
I'd like to begin by thanking the council, and in particular Richard Haass and Jim Lindsay, for their support. Our work in this area has been made possible by CFR's Women and Foreign Policy Program, so I also want to thank Isobel Coleman, the director of the program, for her commitment to this issue. And she's here with us tonight. I also want to thank Megan Fulcoh (sp) and Seth Goldstein at the CFR team for putting together tonight's event.
The report that we're here to launch this evening was informed and guided by CFR's Child Marriage Advisory Group, which is compromised of prominent experts in international development, women and girls empowerment and the domestic and international policy communities, and it includes representatives from UNICEF and The Elders. And while the advisory group is not responsible for the contents of the report, it has been enhanced considerably by the group's expertise, so my thanks to all of them and to those of you here representing the council tonight.
We're also grateful to the renowned photographer Stephanie Sinclair, whose powerful image of a child bride in Yemen graces the cover of our report, if you can see here on the screen. This picture, which was taken in 2010, is of an 8-year-old girl named Tahani and her 27-year-old husband. And Tahani recalled of this picture and of the early days of her marriage, quote, "Whenever I saw him, I hid. I hated to see him."
Looking at this photograph, few in this room would dispute that the practice of child marriage if abhorrent. But why should we care abut the fate of a girl in the developing world? Well, the answer, it turns out, is not simply morality, or justice, it is self-interest, because what happens to an individual girl affects her family, her community, her economy and her nation.
The council has taken on the issue of child marriage to make exactly that case, that ending the practice of child marriage is not just a strategic -- a moral imperative, it is a strategic imperative. And our speakers today know this from experience. And we're privileged to have with us two of the foremost experts on preventing and ending child marriage.
First, we are honored to be joined by Mrs. Mary Robinson, the president of the Mary Robinson Foundation, Climate Justice. She's served as the president of Ireland from 1990 to 1997, and as the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 to 2002. She is a member of The Elders and the Club of Madrid, and is a recipient of numerous honors and awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom from U.S. President Barack Obama. She is a member of the Lead Group of Scaling Up Nutrition, and in March of 2013 she was appointed as the U.N. secretary-general's special envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa. Her memoir "Everybody Matters" was published in March.
Welcome, Mrs. Robinson.
MARY ROBINSON: Thank you very much. Thank you.
VOGELSTEIN: We are also pleased to be joined by Ms. Geeta Rao Gupta, the deputy executive director of UNICEF. Ms. Rao Gupta has over 20 years of experience in the international development field, and prior to her appointment at UNICEF she served at the Bill and Linda Gates Foundation. From 1996 to 2010, Ms. Rao Gupta was the president of the International center for Research on Women, and under her leadership the organization catalyzed policy and programmatic change for women and children around the world. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including Harvard University's 2006 Anne Roe Award. Please join me in welcoming both of our speakers this evening. (Applause.)
So I'll start off our discussion tonight with a few questions of my own, and then we'll open up the discussion to all of you.
So, Mrs. Robinson, I'll start with you. You're here in your capacity as a leader of The Elders, a prominent group of independent global leaders working to advance peace and human rights. Other members of The Elders include Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland -- both of whom were kind enough to serve on CFR's Child Marriage Advisory Group. And other members include former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Can you tell us a little bit more about The Elders and why you've collectively chosen to take on the issue of child marriage?
ROBINSON: Well, can I start by saying I'm one of the younger elders? (Laughter.) Before we -- that's, you know, increasingly less so, but I still -- (laughter) -- but the interesting thing is, what I love about this report is that it looks at child marriage as a foreign policy issue, which is really significant. That's not, in fact, what prompted The Elders, which is why I'm glad to be here and glad to embrace this report and perspective as adding to the evidence and the value.
Now, The Elders charged very much with -- by Nelson Mandela with a very strong message: to be close to those without a voice, to reach out and to address issues of inequality, discrimination, et cetera. And of course Graca Machel is part of the elders, and she is a very strong advocate of this as well.
We decided to look at the issue of equality of girls and women, and then we sort of thought well, you know, we're elders and we're few and we're not a big organization. So what exactly can we do that might make a difference? And we decided that we had to take on a tough issue. And the tough issue is the way that religion can be distorted to subjugate women. And it happens in a lot of places in the world. And so we issued a very strong statement about that, and yet, that didn't seem to be enough.
And we thought further, and our then CEO, Mabel van Oranje, brought together a very good group of, you know, those who had been very much involved in issues of women's rights and girls' rights. And the issue at no time that nobody was tackling really sufficiently was child marriage, because it's difficult. Marriage is not a purely private issue, and so people were working on it but not wanting to highlight that they working on it, almost, and they were isolated in different parts of the world.
And so we began by going to Ethiopia and going to the Amhara region -- Archbishop Tutu, Gro Brundtland, Graca Machel and myself, and it was a learning curve for us to know how many girls. At that time, we were talking 10 million -- now I think we're talking 14 million girls worldwide. It's a huge number -- huge number of families affected. But when we got to the Amhara region -- I mean, we were supported by the then-minister of health -- he's now minister of foreign affairs -- Tedros very strongly welcoming us. Locally, a terrific woman -- local -- I'm not quite sure what her authority was in the region, but she was, you know, a regional governor, let's say -- very much welcoming us and saying, we welcome your help, because this is a difficult issues.
And when we got out into the rural area of the Amhara region, the average age of marriage of girls was 12. And that was the -- it was kind of a custom. And we had to address that very carefully, that child marriage is not a cultural issue. It's an issue of traditional practice that is harmful, and we have to get that across. It may be very prevalent -- slavery was very prevalent in its day, and Archbishop Tutu would speak eloquently about the apartheid system affected his country. So we don't call it cultural. We say, traditional practices that are harmful, and we tried to address that issue. And we -
And then, we also went to India, but while we were still in Ethiopia, we brought together a wide number of very good organizations -- UNICEF, obviously, among them, who were working on the issue. And we decided that what was needed was a global partnership which became Girls, not Brides. But I remember the second visit, which we made with another very distinguished elder -- Ela Bhatt from India. She led us in that visit to the Bihar state, where, again, the same prevalence -- the average marriage age was 12.
And we went to a school, I remember, in a very, very rural area, because we went across even bumpier roads than I was used to in the west of Ireland. You know, really, bumpy, bumpy roads -- (laughter) -- to find young girls -- extraordinarily attractive young girls and boys in a school involved in a project to end child marriage as far as their generation was concerned. And that was why we were there. And the boys were as keen as the girls on doing this. They were not going to allow their sisters -- they were adamant about it -- and then we separated, and Gro Brundtland and myself went to meet with the girls, and Ela Bhatt and Archbishop Tutu went to meet with the boys separately.
And the girls told us -- and I'll never forget them telling us that what they were doing was negotiating with their parents to stay in school a year longer. You know, so instead of leaving school at 13 to be married, if they could stay till 14, you know, the difference that would make. And then one of their friends would learn that the rumors the parents were talking -- she got a -- and she would send a message out -- I think they're trying to marry me, please, please come. And the friends would come round to the home and say, look, you know, she's only 13. Don't let her be married.
Even though the average was 12, these were -- they were trying to -- and they were trying to say, not until at least 15, because then we will be stronger. We will be -- and I think this brought home, more than anything else, to me, how entrenched, how difficult it is to change something like that, but the interesting thing, which we may pick up on, is the fact that the Council on Foreign Relations now says this is such a big issue -- it's such a significant issue globally -- it's a foreign policy issue, that we need and the United States needs to be engaged on, and I think that's really very welcome, because now we have, I think -- there are lots of reports of -- Geeta will even -- know even more about this than I do, but I'm very struck by the fact that this was a hidden issue only about two years ago. It's now really coming to the surface, and it's a big issue, as your report brings out.
VOGELSTEIN: Ms. Rao Gupta, I wonder if we can turn to you to build on that a little bit -- a little bit, the entrenched nature of this practice. And tell us about your approach. What works, what doesn't work and what types of results are you seeing?
GEETA RAO GUPTA: Thank you so much. First, congratulations on the report. As I said to you one-on-one, I'm really happy to see the Council on Foreign Relations taking up this issue. UNICEF has -- is really committed to making a difference on this issue. We've taken it up as one of our priorities in our new strategic plan. We're thrilled -- I don't know if you've all seen the high-level panel report that they have ending child marriage. There is a target which is really good news.
It's a complicated issue. It's definitely rooted in social norms. It's rooted, as Mary said, in traditional practice. So for an agency like UNICEF, that works with governments and with communities, it's a challenge to try to make a difference in it. But we've come up with some interesting strategies that have been tested now, proven to work, and the challenge now remains in scaling them up.
So I just want to begin by telling you that I went to Zambia, just about maybe four weeks ago now, and participated in a really unusual event where the first lady of Zambia, together with the minister for cultural and tribal leaders, I think was her title, had decided to have an event in the eastern province of Zambia, to bring together tribal leaders from all over Zambia to denounce child marriage.
And it was an incredible event because you had tribal leaders gathered together with the community in that particular area and all these speeches by high-level people from Zambia talking about the negative sort of impact of child marriage on girls themselves, but also on society, on economies, et cetera. And to see all these people listening, and then the tribal leaders coming up one by one and making a pledge to do all they can to stop this practice.
And the reason I felt that it was a high point in my life is that for so many years we've tried, and many of the people who brought this issue onto the agenda -- I see Judith Bruce there -- many years ago we tried so hard to give it visibility, Mary. And at that point -- and that was at least 10 years ago, I'd say. And it was Judith who first coined the term child marriage. We used to talk about it as early marriage, and it got no traction at all with that term.
And the minute we -- you know, Judith said, but these are children; this is child marriage and then people picked that up and ran with it -- it began to get some attention. But we didn't have all of the evidence then. So UNICEF has played a great role in gathering some of that evidence through its MICS surveys, its Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys.
It needed -- we needed to sort of let people know that there are ways -- it was called a cultural practice, and then intervening in a society's culture was thought of as being a very negative thing to do. But we had the -- you know, the experience with FGM, with female genital mutilation, cutting, that -- where NGOs, together with UNICEF, had an enormous impact across Africa in getting communities engaged in denouncing the practice and taking a vow to end it, after a lot of discussion and engagement.
So through that experience and work with FGM we developed a model for changing social norms through community engagement that had worked -- has worked incredibly well in Senegal and other countries across west Africa on FGM.
And so we're trying to use that methodology for child marriage, by getting communities to discuss and talk about what do they, in their view, think is the ideal age of marriage, why is that an ideal age, explaining to them and sharing with them evidence and information about the consequences for their daughters and for the children that they will bear, talking to them about what are the options to marriage, trying to, you know, engage them in a conversation about the fact that marriage is often not always safe, as they imagine, that it doesn't necessarily protect the honor of their daughters.
And so that's one mechanism that we're using. And we're using it pretty effectively and now have been able to actually describe it as a model, so anybody can take it and implement it in any community. But that's a slow process. And obviously, with this issue we're impatient to bring about change. It's going down, the incidents of child marriage, but not fast enough.
So the other intervention that we're looking at is social protection policies. And there are social protection policies around girls education because ultimately the most effective intervention to end child marriage is to keep girls in school, as Mary said. And the -- every year that you keep a child -- girl in school, you delay her getting married in societies where child marriage is common.
But there are often financial disincentives for parents to send their girls to school, which can be taken care of through a program that provides cash incentives to keep your child in school. They're -- you know, the Indian government, for example, has issued a special savings bond that can be given to a girl when she's born and that she can cash in on at the age of 18 only if she's still unmarried and has completed school.
So there -- it's a monetary incentive, cash transfers, sometimes direct cash transfers, to parents. But if the barrier and the bottleneck to keeping girls in school is financial, it takes care of that very effectively. So it's a -- it's a policy and a programmatic way to shift the norm.
I want to share one other thing with you, which is that through some of that community work that we did to shift norms by engaging communities -- and some of this work I did with colleagues when I was at the International Center for Research on Women -- we learned some -- got some interesting insights, which is that if you ask parents individually, one-on-one, what is the age at which they'd like to see their daughter married, in a community where, at that time -- I'm talking about a community in Maharashtra, in India -- the average age of marriage was 14. But when we interviewed parents, they said they wanted to get their daughter married at 19. When you interviewed adolescent girls, they said they wanted to be married at 21.
And so when you looked to the data, it was pretty staggering to see that nobody really wanted their daughters married at 14. So where was this coming from? And that resulted in interesting group conversations then, which was the next phase, where we discovered that nobody really wanted to be a pioneer, because the cost of being a pioneer, the social sanctions are so severe and the possibility that your daughter may never find a man and may remain unmarried and the religious consequences of that for parents who were unable to get their daughter married within Hinduism, all the sort of effects from that were what kept parents from being the first ones to say, no, no, we'll wait. So just the sharing of that information was a big step forward.
Then the next piece was, well, the secondary school is so far away and for girls to get to school is such a long distance that -- and it's unsafe and they may get sexually assaulted, et cetera, so what do we do? How do we send them to school? And if they're at home, like most of us with adolescents, an idle adolescent sitting at home is not a very good idea, they get into trouble. So they wanted to know what should the girls do if they're just sitting at home? And obviously, they never really just sit at home; they help a lot with housework.
But setting up life skills education community programs where they could attend for a certain number of hours a day, where they not only then were kept busy, but were given financial literacy information, how to open a bank account, how to use a bus schedule and how to get from one place to the next, et cetera, which, by itself was empowering, helped to shift the age of -- average age of marriage in that community over a period of, I think it was 2 1/2 years, to 16.
So I shared that particular example with you because we believe this is very entrenched, that it's a traditional practice that has happened for so many decades; how are we ever going to change it? But if you analyze its roots and what causes it, if it is economic or it is because of negative social sanctions associated with doing it differently, there can be ways around it. And that's what UNICEF is trying in many of its countries.
And it's interesting to see, as I saw in Zambia, how governments are now seeing that the laws that they have in place, which is obviously the first, most important step, is not sufficient, because they don't get enforced. So you need the norm-setters, like the tribal leaders, to actually take the lead and to say that this needs to change. So that's just a couple of examples.
VOGELSTEIN: Very interesting programmatic approaches to this issue. I wonder if we can turn back, Mrs. Robinson, to U.S. foreign policy, which is the focus of the report, as you mentioned. And thanks in part to the advocacy of the Girls Not Brides coalition in the United States, the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization law that was just signed by President Obama includes a new requirement that the secretary of state develop a multisectoral strategy to combat the international scourge of child marriage.
And I wonder if you could give us your thoughts on what you would like to see included in that strategy. What should the U.S. focus on?
ROBINSON: Well, I'm delighted, first of all, that there is that commitment to the strategy. And this report, I think, is really very helpful in keeping the political momentum.
You know, as Geeta was talking, I was remembering being in Malawi in January, helping Joyce Banda with her Safe Motherhood Program. And we saw those realities, the lack of any real prospect of secondary education for girls. So as Joyce Banda was saying, they have a real problem of early marriage and of early pregnancy, without marriage, and because that is the reality. And so I think it's really a case of focusing on the girl child in a real way.
Like Geeta, I'm delighted that the high-level panel that has just reported to the secretary-general has put this issue now in a very central position in development thinking. So you know, it's becoming important in foreign policy because of this report in development. If you've got 14 million girls married way before they're ready for it and their families are ready for it with all the loss of safe motherhood, the loss of a childhood, the implications, again, for violence and repression in a power imbalance between an older man and a very young girl, you know, all of that.
So I think, really, the -- what I would say is that the first point, maybe, is to take on board the high-level panels approach and try to make that entrenched in U.S. foreign policy in a leadership way, which I think would be really very helpful. I have to say, you know -- the experience of being in Ethiopia initially, where I think I fully realized the extent of the problem -- and Archbishop Tutu was so honest in saying that he had not appreciated, and now, you know, was aware. And that was -- you know, it was very helpful.
But I remember being in conversation with a couple at the end of a village project of a kind that you're talking about -- it has to come from within, and it was the imams, it was the parents, it was the girls themselves, it was boys, et cetera, all working in the village. And it was -- that was why we were there -- to see that this was a way of addressing this problem. And then we were allowed to talk to different couples. And I sat with a young girl -- woman -- and her husband, who was older, and actually, was very silent. (Laughs.) I was talking through translation to the girl, and I realized that I needed to sort of get on a wavelength with her. So I asked her a question that I thought was a very easy question. I said, tell me about your wedding day.
And she looked at me with the saddest eyes and she said, I had to leave school. And that was -- that was her wedding day. And I said, how old were you? And she said 15. So, you know, above the average age. And I said -- and how long are you married? A year. So she was sitting there with her older husband, and I said, and can you go back to school? No. You know, so for her, that year had been a year when she lost so much. She'd been a happy 15-year-old playing with her -- but -- and then, I think, you know, she was married to somebody she had never met before, and had to move into his family and do what was expected to her. And -- you know, but the sadness in her eyes, saying, you know -- I think it brings home -- it's a very, very different thing, this child marriage.
It's a forced situation for young girls long before they're ready for it. So -- there is an element of power and violence -- you know, the forced nature of it, to me, cuts through all of the childhood of that girl and all of the potential, and brings her into an unsafe situation of becoming pregnant far too young and having to cope with all of that. So it is a big issue to address. As you mentioned, I have now taken on a new responsibility in the Great Lakes region, and obviously, the sexual violence and violence against girls and children generally is something that has to be higher on the political agenda.
But I think this issue of girls having an opportunity to have -- to develop their full potential and to be very active and proactive for their community and the way in which communities are increasingly recognizing the economic as well as the social and human rights dimensions of the -- of the issue. So I really, again, am delighted that the Council has taken on this issue, and I'm delighted that there is now a real leadership potential for the United States in working through the commitments, but they are development commitments, and I think they're -- and I think putting the girl-child in a very central position will address that.
GUPTA: Rach, can I just add a couple of points and just build off something that Mary said, because I think there are two very important points. One is the forced nature of these marriages. I remember the first time I had an opportunity to talk to some members of Congress in Washington about this issue. I remember one of them jokingly saying to me, well, I got married in high school. You know, we fell in love in 9th grade. And I said -- it suddenly hit me that they didn't quite fully understand the circumstances of these marriages. These weren't two teenagers falling in love and getting married. And I think -- so that's a very important point as you discuss this with policymakers.
And the second point is that it's fundamentally about girls being valued less in society. And that's the -- that's the element in the -- and the inequality -- you know, the fundamental power imbalance when girls don't have voice, where women as seen as being a commodity. And all of the traditional practices around marriage, where -- whether it's dowry, where the girl's side or the girls' parents are paying a certain amount of money to get their daughter married or the man is paying the girls' side in order to purchase the bride -- whichever way you look at it, in societies where marriage is an exchange of a commodity for a price. That -- the powers imbalance there is enormous by definition. And then you add an age differential to it, and you have a situation in which the girl is incredibly vulnerable to violence, to HIV, to having no decision-making power at all. And with her body not yet ready to have a child, to then be forced into sex and be pregnant and all of that -- I mean, the health consequences, but the psychological trauma from all of that is enormous.
When -- at the same event in Zambia, we had the opportunity to visit households in the visit. And I asked to meet a girl bride. And they, of course, didn't introduce me to a couple with an older man because it was illegal in Zambia to do that, but they introduced me to a young couple where the boy was 17 and the girl was 15 and they had a nine month baby, was in the girl's arms.
And I asked about them, and they said that they were married because the girl got pregnant and the parents decided it was a shame to the family and they should get married now and the boy had to step up. But as Mary said, incredibly sad expressions because they wanted to go to school. And I said -- he said, I want to return to school but we now have this baby. And who's going to earn to look after the baby?
So I raise their example because as we focus on the prevention side of this issue, let us remember that there are millions of girls who are currently child brides. And how do we help them? So we often focus just on what are the interventions and the ways in which to prevent girls from getting married in the future at a young age, but how can we help those?
And so the policies of allowing a married girl to return to school, of communities supporting young couples if they're both very young and want to return to school, to be able to do that. We don't think enough of that side of the equation. So I just wanted to raise that as well.
VOGELSTEIN: Yes, and also the need for family planning among girls who are already married --
GUPTA: That's right.
VOGELSTEIN: -- because of the profound health effects of early pregnancy and childbearing.
I'd like to open the discussion to the audience, so please raise your hand if you have a question for our speakers and a microphone will be brought to you. Please do state your name and affiliation and please keep your questions brief so that we can try and get through as many as possible.
So we have a question right here in the front.
QUESTIONER: Hi. I'm Jessica Neuwirth, founder of Equality Now. And I want to thank you for this report and taking up this issue. Equality Now has worked on child marriage for many years and approaches it, as it does other issues, from a legal perspective. And as you may recall, in Beijing, Hillary Clinton said, it's not cultural, it's criminal -- violence against women.
And I'm just wondering if you could both comment on your view of the role of the law and also law enforcement, not only in the protection of girls from child marriage, but also as a tool to try to change social attitudes.
ROBINSON: OK. Do you want to take a few questions or will we just answer -- (inaudible)?
VOGELSTEIN: We'll just do one at a time until we get to the end.
ROBINSON: OK, OK. Well, just to start off, the rule of law is important, but actually in child marriage -- it's very interesting. When we went as Elders to Ethiopia, first of all, and met with Minister of Health Tedros and other government officials, the law in Ethiopia is that the age of marriage is 18. So, you know, and then we go to the Amhara Region and the average age is 12. So it's enforcement.
The same thing in India. In fact, in India the age for girls is older, it's 21, I think. Isn't that right?
ROBINSON: And boys, 18. So that wasn't the issue. And in a different way, maybe because I'm very focused now on the Great Lakes, I think the need to enforce, to actually bring people to justice for acts of gross sexual violence is absolutely fundamental to changing the attitude toward women and that whole issue.
So we need more prosecutions. We need more people convicted. We need to end impunity. So in that way I'm totally with you. But actually, the real problem in the child marriage area is not -- there's only one country, as far as I know -- you'll correct me, Geeta -- I think Niger is the only country in the world that doesn't have -- that lacks a law stating the age of marriage.
GUPTA: No, there are four others.
ROBINSON: Oh, there are four others? She's much more knowledgeable than I am.
GUPTA: I was just going to actually list them. There's Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Gambia and Equatorial Guinea, are the ones that I have that don't have a law. But almost every other country does.
VOGELSTEIN: Right. That's right.
GUPTA: And the point is, it's not enforced. So you're right, that it should be enforced and there should be enforcement mechanisms. I do think that viewing child marriage as structural violence against girls is a useful way for a policy discussion on it, but it's -- you know, violence against girl of any other type, other than marrying them off in a forced way at an early age -- to enforce those laws, it's very difficult.
As I watched discussions happen in the U.N., as I was saying earlier this morning, that member states very rarely can argue against doing something about violence against women and girls. But they can have all kinds of views about things that they then put into the bucket of culture or tradition or this is our way and who are you to intervene.
But these are human rights issues. This is about the rights of girls. And there's an international convention that people have ratified and signed onto and they can be held accountable to. So it's a very different conversation. The two issues are very linked, violence and child marriage, in many ways, and girls are much more vulnerable to violence within marriage. But the law is the first, most important step, but there's a lot more that has to happen beyond that.
VOGELSTEIN: Other questions -- question all the way in the back.
QUESTIONER: Hi, I'm Brian Lippy (sp) with the Do Right Campaign.
My 17-year-old daughter and I visited Myanmar, Burma, a few months ago. And she's been involved with this issue for many years. And one of the big problems that we discovered there is human trafficking, particularly into China, where one of the unintended consequences of the one-child policy is a disproportionate number of single men looking for brides.
Two parts of the question, one, to what part -- to what extent have you seen child brides linked to trafficking, human trafficking? And secondly, to what extent has China been a driver, you know, in the practice?
ROBINSON (?): (Off mic) -- China --
GUPTA: Not that -- I mean, trafficking in and of itself is a horrendous thing. And when girls are trafficked, it's usually into the sex trade or into labor, domestic labor, often. And this -- yes, there are, you know, mail brides and other forms of -- you could call them trafficking -- when they're not voluntary, they are trafficked.
But it's not -- as far as I know, and I'd love to have others in the audience inform us -- the biggest form or the biggest way in which girls are married this young. It's usually within the community.
There's abductions in Ethiopia, there are abductions that occur, where girls are abducted and then once you've been with the man, you have to marry him. And that's the reason that's given for the -- for the child marriage. But I don't know if others want to say something about trafficking. Mary, maybe you know.
ROBINSON: Well, I've certainly been aware of the problem of trafficking into China, because, as you say, of the demographic imbalance. And I'm not sure, you know, how much marriage enters into this at a certain stage; it's more trafficking of -- you know, for -- marriage may result in a -- in a forced way at the end of it, but more likely, it's --
GUPTA: There is, in India, in some of the northern states, where the sex ratio is now terribly imbalanced, there are -- these is anecdotal evidence of men, again, kidnapping or forcing girls from other villages where there are girls, because there are such few girls in the villages in which the young men live, and forcing them into marriage and bringing them back home. And also, the issue of one girl now serving many husbands, people talk about anecdotally.
And it's all very important to highlight, because, I mean, this issue of how an imbalanced sex ratio affects the status of women, because I've heard, for example, Indian politicians talk about, oh, if they have fewer women, they'll be really treated well -- (scattered laughter.) -- you know, because they'll be so scarce that they'll be treated well. There's not a shred of evidence to support that. (Chuckles.)
VOGELSTEIN: Just to add onto that, in doing research for the report, I did come across some legal arguments that certain -- in certain factual scenarios, the elements of trafficking under the Palermo Protocol, the trafficking protocol, could be met, if, for example, a girl was essentially traded to repay a debt, a familial debt, or for some other economic consideration. So I think that is an open question.
And I know that some countries that are thinking through their trafficking laws are grappling with whether to include child marriage within them to the extent that a factual scenario, such as the one I described, was at issue, so an interesting question.
Other questions -- one here, right here in the front.
QUESTIONER: Thank you, Alice Henkin, the Aspen Institute.
I'd like to ask both of you about a missing group in your presentation. What about boys, men and fathers? Are they taking a different position than the women, the mothers? Do they have a say in the community?
ROBINSON: I think we did touch on it a bit, Alice. Certainly, in the two village examples that we visited in Ethiopia, men were essential, the imams, the fathers, the -- and then, the school, the boys were essential. You mentioned the tribal chiefs in Zambia. Again, in Malawi Joyce Banda, the president, is using tribal chiefs on the Safe Motherhood, which is the other end of – you know, another aspect of it, but also I think increasingly realizing that the tribal chiefs would be important in the child marriage.
But I think there's not going to be a solution in a village or in a community context unless the men and boys are also involved. And in fact, that was one of the reasons why it was so good to have Archbishop Tutu with us, you know, speaking to, in particular, the imams and the local faith leaders, because marriage is not an entirely private event. Even when it's a forced child marriage, there is some kind of a ceremony or some kind of a way of ensuring that the girl has to move into another household and do what is expected of her.
And I think this was one of the areas that we were concentrating on. And there shouldn't be. Faith leaders should not be prepared to do this, and they're an important element in trying to prevent.
QUESTIONER: When you were interviewing families, was it a husband and wife you were interviewing, or just the wife?
GUPTA: No, both parents. Both parents.
You know, I think it's also important to keep the parents' perspective in mind. Poverty is a big piece of this. Poverty is a big piece of this. So it would be unfortunate if you saw this as parents who were mean and cruel to their daughters because they wanted to be. It's never like that. I mean, not never but often not like that.
It's parents wanting to do what they think is best for their daughters, that if they marry them early they will be in a safe environment, that if they marry them early they will be looked after. They learn early the ways of the new household. There's all kinds of explanations given that are kind, but it's not in keeping with reality.
VOGELSTEIN: Question right over here.
QUESTIONER: Ellen Chesler from the Roosevelt Institute. I actually wanted to pick up on that comment about poverty because I was just going to ask the question in a different way.
While I so much appreciate everything that's been said, and particularly your reference to structural violence as a frame along with human rights for this issue, it does seem to me that ultimately an important frame, particularly for U.S. policy makers, is the poverty frame. Because contrary to what you just said, what we know from the data is -- and what people like Judith Bruce, whom you mentioned, and Adrienne Germain and others have been talking about for 20 years is that early marriage drives fertility and therefore drives poverty, not to speak of the fact that it takes women out of the potential for formal labor, and therefore depresses economic growth in countries.
You know, my background is as a U.S. historian, so I know that it's not that long ago that these issues were issues in this country. This is not a West-East issue. It's perhaps, you know, a historically timed issue but we didn't have laws against child marriage for a very long time in this country, and there have been incredible changes in marriage patterns and fertility patterns in this country.
And with respect to an issue like you just raised, Geeta, about teenage pregnancy and returning to school, we didn't have laws against that. We didn't have opportunities until the 1970s and '80s when I was working in New York City government with the first programs to allow pregnant teenagers to stay in school.
So these are not, you know, culturally -- cultural issues just for certain countries, even though they're framed that way. So the question I have is, what kind of data do we need to drive the economic frame for this issue, and how can we convince development experts that investments in women and girls are central to all the objectives that we have in terms of international development policy?
GUPTA: Yeah, I mean, the link between poverty and child marriage is very strong. A lot of policy makers -- and this is now again India because of conversations I've had with them there -- will tell you we should just let economic growth happen and then child marriage will drop. And I always say it's the reverse.
You address the status of women, give women access to family planning, reproductive health, give them education, and then you'll have economic growth happen, because if it were true, you know, India with its double-digit growth rate should have now, by now -- you know, you should see no child marriage. In fact, you see more and more of it. In certain states where it didn't exist, it now exists.
So it's not -- I think that that's why it's got such huge foreign policy implications, foreign assistance implications, because if you're seeking to invest in equitable development, then you have to invest in improving the status of girls and women. There's no question about that.
And there are many roots to that and there are many entry points. And one of them is that you deal with this issue of child marriage because it has a multiplier effect on so many things -- on health and education, on economic opportunity and participation in the labor force, all of those things. Or you take any one of those and decide that that's the entry point.
But I couldn't agree more that it's -- and the history part is fascinating. I didn't know that about how common it was. I mean, for me as an Indian -- that's my country of my birth -- my mother-in-law, who recently passed, was married at the age of 12. And she was pulled out of school the minute her father died, because all of a sudden having an unmarried girl at home wasn't safe. So she was married precisely to keep her safe.
So it's just, you know, a generation away. So it is good to hear that it wasn't that far back, even here. And maybe that's something that, you know, U.S. foreign policy makers should be -- experts should be reminded of.
QUESTIONER: I suspect that congressman who got married in high school got married because she got pregnant first. (Laughter.) (Inaudible) -- name names.
GUPTA: Yeah. (Laughter.)
ROBINSON: But just on that point of, you know, the sense that so many girls have of being less valuable than their brothers, of being second class, I mean, I remember growing up in the West of Ireland. Both my parents were doctors. My mother ceased to practice when six of us -- five of us arrived within six years -- a good Catholic, Western Ireland tradition.
And my father would come back from delivering in poor, you know, farmers' homes, poor peasants' homes basically, without running water -- this was the tradition of the time. And he would be angry at the question, because it happened all the time. And when the baby was born --
GUPTA: Was it a boy or --
ROBINSON: Is it a boy or a child? Is it a boy or a child? I remember him saying that to my mother, and I remember being very affected by that.
So, you know, these are -- but I also wanted to make the point that I think that the development argument has gained a lot of traction now. And indeed, this recent report at the high level panel of eminent persons on the post-2015 agenda, in its report the other day to the secretary general, has actually recommended a goal to empower girls and women and to achieve gender equality as being essential for development.
I mean, I think we know this but now it may be a centralized goal with indicators, one of them being to address child marriage, I'm glad to say expressly, in the report.
VOGELSTEIN: I think we have time for just maybe a few more questions we'll ask in a row and then give a final set of answers.
VOGELSTEIN: So right down here in the front?
QUESTIONER: In your talk with the villages, did you ask any questions about the young boys being sold for sex purpose? I know this is prevalent in Southeast Asia. I don't know about India and Africa.
VOGELSTEIN: Another question right here.
QUESTIONER: My question was going to take off on some of the things that you've been saying about the different entry points, because -- I'm Marissa Wesely. I'm on the board of Global Fund for Women.
And my experience has been really through a lot of the Global Fund grantees around the world. And there I see the entry points as being through grassroots women's organizations where the focus is really on -- in various ways, the women's groups focus on empowering women and creating, through what they do, whether it's in political participation in Indian villages and mobilizing resources to have water rights or fruit trees or expanding education or access to health care.
Their involvement in village councils and their ability to create change actually has transformed the age of marriage in many of those places. And both men and women are very proud of that but, I mean, it's been a slow process and the entry points have been in various ways, but ultimately in creating a model in the village that girls are worth as much as boys. It's worth educating them as much as boys. There is no benefit to this.
And so I'm curious, in your experience in sort of the grassroots mobilizing and how that has made a difference in any of your experiences.
VOGELSTEIN: We'll have just one more question in the back and then we'll give a set of answers.
QUESTIONER: Judith Bruce, Population Council. Congratulations to the council and to the panel.
I think you've made the case that we have the data. We know where we have child marriage. We know where we have the most severe epidemics. We even know how to act in those epidemics -- Imhara (ph), the places you cited, and Geeta in India. And we have interested donors.
What are the chances -- you're both very accomplished in the political process -- of getting coordination among the donors to have them select places where we have high concentrations of girls who are either currently married or at risk of child marriage, pretty much the same places, having them select where they're willing to work because of their historical relationships or because of what their program countries in the case of USAID are, so that we can take this agenda to earth with some really solid investment?
GUPTA: Can I take that one first?
GUPTA: That last one first.
GUPTA: Just to tell you, Judith, I think this is the moment in time to make that happen, because it's fascinating to watch how issues get put on the agenda and at what point in time they take off. And the Elders and the Girls Not Brides initiative succeeded in getting us to that tipping point. I mean, all of the evidence to support it helped but that voice helped enormously.
I'll tell you that in producing the strategic plan for UNICEF, all of the -- not all -- many of the donor sort of country conversations one on one on the different issues in the plan were about child marriage. So I say this because it's suddenly on the agenda, and it's on the agenda for donor countries who are interested in reproductive health and rights. It's on donor agendas for those interested in education and those who are interested in human rights. So there's a much broader swath of countries now interested in funding this issue.
You know, UNICEF has a big initiative called A Promise Renewed it's doing with many other partners, which is about reducing -- ending preventable child deaths and reducing maternal mortality. And as part of that initiative, as country governments who have signed on to this initiative, to take it on and to make a big difference and accelerate the rate of decline, when they launch these -- because I attend all of these launches in different countries -- the link to child marriage is being drawn. That's how the Zambia event occurred. It was the launch of A Promise Renewed.
So they launched it one day and the third day was the launch of the initiative in child marriage to meet the goal of A Promise Renewed. I think that's staggering, you know, to have made that link and to have, you know, across ministries, people coming together to get a health outcome through these kinds of interventions.
So just to say I have great optimism that this is the moment where if we were to create an international initiative that focused on the particular countries that need the most attention and came up with a strategic approach to address the problem and brought those countries on board as government partners, you could make more happen now than ever before.
ROBINSON: Yeah, I very much agree with that, and I think it's very much where the debate is now. And that's reflected in the high-level report, making it central to development and one of the indicators for development, you know. So I think we really do have a possibility of this becoming an issue that can be really tackled in a concentrated way and a focused way.
I also think that the -- you know, the work of grassroots women's groups that are supported by the Global Fund for Women, I think they too are now more ready to openly address child marriage. And that's the difference. It was the silent and the difficult one that they were trying to address but didn't want to take on because it was just too difficult because of the confusion about what's cultural and what's traditional practice, and all of these issues that needed to be addressed.
And just finally, on the issue of boys sold for sex purposes, that for me was a huge issue when I was high commissioner for human rights in Cambodia. I remember addressing the parliament in Cambodia, having a very good, detailed text provided by the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights, based on Cambodia. And I made my speech as best I could and got a certain amount of applause and recognition for it.
And as I was walking out to visit a local NGO that was really dealing with the problem, and the woman, the brave woman, who brought me turned around and says, well, some of the worst perpetrators are the ones that clapped you -- (chuckles) -- unfortunately being part of the market for small boys. And so that is an issue as well.
But I think what I really see in a relatively short time is how we now have a way of addressing the child marriage issue in the context of the need to affirm the equality of girls at every level, because that's still a fundamental problem in so many places.
And I remember sitting in at one stage on a meeting of the YWCA, which in fact was Musimbi Kanyoro when she was head. And she had a big meeting in Kenya and I was allowed to sort of sit there and listen to these 15- and 16-year-olds talking among themselves. And without exception they were talking about the barriers, the sense of inferiority, the -- you know, it was just so clear they just did not feel really equal.
So that's something we still have to work at, and it's so fundamental to later -- and to communities valuing and families valuing. And I think the child marriage issue does address that and helps a lot. But even more basic than that is what girls feel about themselves and are made to feel by the society, by the community, by their families. And that's, I think, what development experts are realizing, that if we can get across and past that one and really bring out the potential of girls, that this would be an enormous benefit for development generally.
And the numbers are very striking -- 14 million. And that's more than 100 million -- significantly more than 100 million in a decade --
ROBINSON: -- you know --
ROBINSON: -- of girls, families, the knock-on effect, the loss of potential, the loss of childhood, the early maternal deaths, the child deaths, the whole lot.
ROBINSON: So it is a foreign policy issue and you've recognized it, and I think that's really welcome.
VOGELSTEIN: Well, it is clearly the hard work of folks like you that this issue has gotten the prominence that it has in a high-level report and elsewhere, but still clearly a lot of work to do.
I want to thank both of our speakers for being with us tonight, for a thought-provoking discussion and for sharing their time and expertise with us. Please join me in thanking them. (Applause.)
ROBINSON: Thank you.
VOGELSTEIN: All right, thank you so much for joining us.
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