Belize launches a road map to end child marriage and early unions

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Margaret Nicholas, Director of NCFC

Every year 14,000,000 girls become child brides. The evidence is overwhelming that the future of young brides anywhere in the World become blighted from the start.
With the second-highest level of child marriage and early unions in the Caribbean region, the National Committee for Families and Children (NCFC), in collaboration with UNICEF and UNFPA, on Friday launched a five-year Road Map to End Child Marriage and Early Unions in Belize. The Road Map highlights worrying trends in child marriage, early unions, early sexual debuts, and teenage pregnancy across regional, urban/rural, and social divides – with girls being the worst affected.
In Belize, one in five girls (20.8 percent) and one in 10 boys (10.7 percent) aged 15 to 19 years are married or in a union (MICS 2015). This has tremendous repercussions on the physical, emotional, educational, health, and livelihood opportunities of both girls and boys, with girls, being the hardest hit. Girls who are married as children are more likely to be out of school, suffer domestic violence, contract HIV/AIDS with a higher risk of morbidity and mortality due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth.
“Child marriage is a human rights violation and a form of gender-based violence,” said Pearl Stuart, Chair of NCFC. “NCFC’s National Child Protection Technical Working Group was commissioned to safeguard the child protection agenda across all ages and stages of the child’s life cycle; this can only be achieved through effective coordination and collaboration,” she added. “The Roadmap contains several strategies and interventions that are already reflected in sector plans, and is aligned with the National Children’s Agenda 2017–2030.”
Child marriage and early unions (CMEU) are harmful practices. CMEU refers to any formal marriage or informal union involving a boy or girl under the age of 18. Exacerbated by poverty, lack of education, violence, tradition, and insecurity, these practices are rooted in gender inequality – where girls are being valued less than boys.
To tackle them, the Road Map to End Child Marriage and Early Unions in Belize takes a holistic approach across sectors, while focusing specifically on girls. Areas of intervention include: increasing girls’ and boys’ access to training, as well as to sexual and reproductive health education and services; transforming social norms and behaviours by stimulating national and community dialogue on the dangers of child marriage; gathering robust data to inform policies, and strengthening and enforcing laws that establish 18 as the minimum age of marriage.
Global momentum towards ending child marriage has never been stronger, with several resolutions by the United Nations General Assembly and the Human Rights Council urging countries to increase investments in eliminating the practice.
A signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Belize counts several policies that address the drivers of CMEU.
“The worsening socio-economic impact of COVID-19 on families and communities across the country heightens the risk of a further spike in an already worrying trend amongst adolescents and young people, who constitute some 50 percent of the population,” said Alison Parker, UNICEF Representative to Belize. “Important going forward with this Road Map will be the harmonization and enforcement of legislative frameworks; investment in systems and accessible services to support vulnerable groups; as well as robust community engagement to address social norms with families and other stakeholders, and help protect the rights of thousands of girls and boys in Belize,” she highlighted.
Child marriage and early unions are a global challenge. To end the practice by 2030 – the target set out in the Sustainable Development Goals – progress must be significantly accelerated. Without further acceleration, in ten years more than 120 million additional girls globally will marry before their 18th birthday.
“With commitment, political will and leadership, active outreach and community engagement, child marriages and early unions can be reduced remarkably quickly,” said Alison Drayton, UNFPA Director and Representative for the Sub-Regional Office for the Caribbean. She further emphasized, “It is, however, impossible to talk about solutions on these issues without factoring economic empowerment and opportunity, access to education and health services, and sustained engagement with young people and their parents to expand life choices.”
With the launch of Friday’s Road Map, the first in the Caribbean region, Belize has not only joined a global effort to prevent girls from marrying too young and to support those already married as girls, but also become a trailblazer, taking this agenda forward in the region.