GENEVA, 11 October 2012 - The shooting of 14-year-old schoolgirl, Malala Yousafzai, in Pakistan on Tuesday by the Taliban because of her campaigning for girls to stay at school and avoid forced early marriage provides a tragic back-drop to today's first-ever International Day of the Girl Child which focuses on these issues.
"As we support this new International Day it is important to look at some of the reasons girls are forcibly pushed into marriage way before they are biologically and psychologically ready", said Margareta Wahlström, UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction.
She believes one major factor is disasters because "they exacerbate existing socio-economic vulnerability among the poorest. In many places this drives families to give girls away to early marriage for financial gain.
"Disasters also damage and destroy schools. Girls who are fortunate enough to be getting an education are often the first pulled from the school system to help the family after a catastrophe strikes. Unless we reduce disaster risks, protect the most vulnerable communities, build resilience and empower women and girls -- forced marriages and the unfulfilled dreams of education by girls all over the world will continue to drive the news stories we have to endure".
In his message for this new global observance, UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon stresses that "Investing in girls is a moral imperative -- a matter of basic justice and equality ... It is also critical for achieving the Millennium Development Goals, advancing economic growth and building peaceful, cohesive societies."
Gordon Brown, former Prime Minister of the UK and UN Special Envoy for Global Education, underscores that "Early marriage is destroying human potential and reinforcing gender inequalities on a global scale. It jeopardizes education, is harmful to health and turns millions of girls into second class citizens, locking them and their children into cycles of poverty. Getting girls into school, keeping them there, and ensuring that they receive a decent quality education is one of the most effective ways of breaking that cycle."
According to the UN, globally, approximately 70 million women aged between 20 and 24 were married before the age of 18. Plan's 'Because I am a Girl Campaign' states that one girl under the age of 18 is married every three seconds. If present trends continue, the number of girls who will marry by their 18th birthday will climb towards 150 million in the next decade.
According to Plan UK, food insecurity in Kenya has led to so-called 'famine brides'. Drought and conflict in Afghanistan have forced farmers to arrange money for the early marriage of their daughters. Girls in Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka have been pressed into marriages with so-called 'tsunami widowers', in many instances to receive state subsidies for starting a family. After the 2004 tsunami, early marriage increased in Indonesia as families in refugee camps saw it as the only protection for their daughters from rape, and in Sri Lanka, where rates of early marriage are normally relatively low.
Plan UK, states that half the world's child brides live in South Asia, which accounts for more early marriages than any other region. Asia is also one of the world's most disaster prone regions.
"As we commemorate this first International Day of the Girl Child we cannot help but make the obvious links between the issues today and the theme of the International Day for Disaster Reduction in two day's time on 13 October", notes Wahlström.
"The International Day for Disaster Reduction's theme of Women and Girls -- the [in]Visible Force of Resilience, is about pushing for women's empowerment and their right to participate in reducing disaster risks in their communities. It is about showcasing the incredible work they do to keep their families, communities and societies safe from the disaster impacts.
"One of the keys to all of this is education and the right to it. If we can reduce disaster impacts and educate women and girls we are going to be one huge step closer towards enabling women and girls to decide their own futures, really take their equal place in their societies and communities, and fulfill their important role in creating disaster resilient societies," states Wahlström.