A new report by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) has advocated against child marriage, which has accounted for 12 million girls under the age of 18 years getting married, equivalent to 23 girls every minute globally in a year.
This rising prevalence has contributed to their personal growth, health and fundamental rights and freedoms denied.
Girls Not Brides, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands and UNAIDS hosted a panel discussion on the issue of child marriage at the International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam, Netherlands, bringing together panellists from across regions, sectors and generations.
According to the agency, gender inequalities and gender-based violence force thousands of girls into marriage and motherhood, adding that girls who marry before they are 15 years old are 50 percent more likely to face physical or sexual violence from a partner.
“Child marriage often means that girls find it difficult to negotiate safer sex with their husbands, who are commonly older and more sexually experienced, making the girls especially vulnerable to HIV and other sexually transmitted infections,” says a report by the organisation.
Monica Geingos, first lady of Namibia, says when girls and women are empowered with rights and given equitable access to education, enabled to participate fully in the labour force and equitably represented in government and decision-making bodies, the benefits far outreach improving the lives of the individual woman. Their families, communities and countries thrive. Yet, more than 150 million girls will become child brides by 2030.
UNAIDS’ latest report, Miles to go, highlights the reality that adolescent girls and young women aged 15–24 years, particularly those from sub-Saharan Africa, are being left behind.
Every week, more than 6,600 adolescent girls and young women become newly infected with HIV, with sub-Saharan
African women and girls bearing the brunt, accounting for one in four HIV infections in 2017, despite being just 10 percent of the population.
However, the panellists highlighted the need to tackle the underlining determinants behind both HIV and child marriage.
They emphasised the need for a comprehensive multi-sectoral and resourced approach. Gender inequality and harmful social norms have to be challenged.
The solutions, they said, include keeping girls in school, and providing health services that serve young people’s needs and mobilising families and communities, including men and boys.