Desmond Tutu calls men to account over child marriage

Girls Not Marriage with Desmond Tutu

Archbishop Desmond Tutu believes men have played key role in perpetuating ‘one of the critical issues of our time’.

Men have “aided and abetted” the continuation of child marriage, a practice that affects the lives of millions of girls a year, Desmond Tutu said on Tuesday.

In New York to promote the Girls Not Brides campaign at the Clinton Global Initiative, Tutu told the Guardian that child marriage was much more than a women’s issue.

“In many ways, this is a problem aided and abetted by men,” he said. “Men tend to be the political leaders and tend to be the traditional leaders and tend to be the religious leaders and tend to give the lead, and if this group of leaders said this is not something we condone, then communities will begin to think differently.”

An estimated 10 million girls worldwide are married each year before they are 18. In poor countries, one in seven girls are married by the time they are 15. Boys are also at risk of being forced to marry young, but it is girls who are disproportionately affected.

The highest prevalence rate for child marriage is in central and western Africa, south Asia and parts of the Middle East. Worldwide, Niger has been identified as having the highest child marriage rate, while India is home to more than one third of child brides.

The Girls Not Brides campaign, a global partnership of organisations, was launched by The Elders, a group of high-profile leaders who use their collective weight and influence to campaign on issues ranging from equality for women to human rights and peace.

On Tuesday, the Clinton Global Iniative, The Elders, the Ford Foundation, the Nike Foundation and the NoVo Foundation collectively committed to raising $3m to support Girls Not Brides and fund activities aimed at ending child marriage in priority countries.

Tutu, who is chairman of The Elders, admitted he didn’t realise how serious a problem child marriage was until he took a trip to northern Ethiopia in June, where he spoke to young women and men about the problem. He visited local leaders in the region who had joined together to educate communities about the dangers of child marriage, which Tutu believes is “one of the critical issues of our time”.

The Nobel laureate said six of the eight millennium development goals would not be met without a concerted effort to stop the practice.

“We want to try and help these young women to catch up on the education they have lost. If they don’t, we really have no hope of making a dent in poverty and hunger and, of course, there is no way we are going to be able to achieve universal primary education … and we’re not going to be able to reduce infant mortality.”

Women under 18 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than older women.

“A lot of the responsibility lays with men, and I want to make a call – especially to my fellow men – and say we can make a huge difference if you say no to child marriage.”

Asked whether years of custom and tradition that have encouraged child marriage can be overturned, Tutu pointed to the end of slavery and apartheid as examples of what can be achieved with a collective effort.

“One of the things that has happened is that many of those who hold leadership positions have seen the light, as it were, and are now on the right side of history.”

And, of course, we need more women in key power positions.

“Absolutely,” he said. “Ultimately, this has to be a partnership of both sexes … once women get a bit between their teeth, nothing can stop them.”

Source: The Guardian

Photo Credit: Cibele_Vieira / Clinton Global Initiative

Girls not Brides

(L-R Luis Ubiñas (Ford Foundation) Mary Robinson (The Elders) Archbishop Desmond Tutu (The Elders)
Jeniffer Buffett (NoVo Foundation) Photo: Cibele_Vieira / Clinton Global Initiative)