Remarks at a Meeting of the Third Committee on Agenda Item 70: General Discussion on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Children

Gregory McElwain
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
October 9, 2018


Thank you. Today we will highlight some U.S. activities that respond to the Secretary-General’s report on child, early, and forced marriage, CFEM.

We know that CEFM is a human rights issue that arises from and perpetuates inequality of women and girls. It contributes to economic hardship and leads to under-investment in girls’ educational and health care needs. CEFM threatens the potential for sustainable growth and development and fosters conditions that enable or exacerbate violence and insecurity, including domestic violence. It can produce devastating repercussions for a girl’s life, effectively ending her childhood. CEFM can force a girl into adulthood and motherhood before she is physically and mentally mature and before she completes her education, limiting her future options, depriving her of the chance to reach her full potential, and preventing her from contributing fully to her family and community.

The Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development support international organizations, non-governmental institutions, and others in the private sector that work to prevent and reduce CEFM. Through research and collaboration with governments, community leaders, faith-based organizations, and civil society organizations, our project managers design and implement interventions that are integrated into broader development programs, including those that involve education and public awareness, child protection, economic empowerment, food security, and maternal and infant health. They give attention to reforming laws and policies to discourage CEFM. They design and implement programs to both prevent CEFM and to address the needs of married children in regions and situations of instability where the practice is most prevalent.

The Secretary-General’s report notes that some Member States integrate efforts to address CEFM into broader policy or protection frameworks. The United States is leading against CEFM globally and domestically. U.S. frameworks pertaining to CEFM include the “U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally” and “2017 Women, Peace, and Security Act.” In 2016, the Department of State adopted the “U.S. Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls.” The Strategy includes specific provisions on ending CEFM and addressing the needs of married girls globally; aims to coordinate the work of U.S. agencies in a holistic way; and meets the requirement of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 that the U.S. Secretary of State establish and implement a multi-year, multi-sectoral strategy to end CEFM. The Department of State also prepares annual “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices” which discuss CEFM in specific countries. Other relevant frameworks are USAID’s “Vision for Action to End Child Marriage and Meet the Needs of Married Children,” “U.S. Government Action Plan on Children in Adversity,” and “Youth in Development” policy.

The Secretary-General’s report talks about engaging with civil society and religious, traditional, and community leaders on CEFM, a strategy which the United States supports. In the Gambia, Embassy Banjul supports an annual educational residential retreat bringing together youth scholars from across the country. Last year’s retreat highlighted CEFM and limited educational opportunities for girls. Through a project called Koota Injerna, or “Come and Talk,” USAID is working in Northern Kenya to address both CEFM and female genital mutilation-cutting. Elders, religious leaders, and youth advocates take part in community dialogues to change the norms on CEFM and the value placed on girls. In Malawi, USAID-funded host Marshall Dyton is using his radio show to bring together chiefs, religious leaders, girls, women, and men to confront CEFM and discuss the importance of educating girls. U.S. embassies and missions are also supporting programs engaging youth on pressing human rights issues, including CEFM.

The report recommends providing access to economic and employment opportunities to address CEFM. The Spring Accelerator, a strategic partnership USAID has with the United Kingdom’s Department of International Development and Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, works with commercial firms to help girls learn, earn, and save in safety. This includes creating savings clubs for girls who are still in high school, as well as job opportunities for high school graduates as marketing agents, research enumerators, and agricultural producers.

One of the biggest challenges to women and girls vulnerable to or in early or forced marriages is a loss of economic or employment opportunities, but we know education can help fill the gap. From 2011 to 2017, nearly 70 million children received USAID-funded early grade reading instruction. 725,000 youth gained new or improved employment after participating in USAID-funded workforce development programs. 4.1 million children and youth in crisis or conflict countries who were previously out of school received access to education. In each of these cases, nearly half of the beneficiaries were female. In Malawi, only 16 percent of girls complete primary school. USAID and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief are working with the Ministry of Education and local schools to construct secondary schools, improve girls’ literacy levels, promote healthcare, and eliminate barriers so that girls can remain in school.

The Secretary-General’s report mentions training professionals to identify girls in CEFM situations and provide support to them, and emphasizes the importance of reforming harmful laws and policies. Through the State Department’s Voices Against Violence program, we are combating CEFM by providing emergency assistance funds to potential victims and victims of CEFM, and are providing support to local organizations in the Middle East to combat CEFM among Syrian and other refugees. In Ethiopia, USAID used public campaigns to raise awareness about the harmful consequences of CEFM. USAID’s partners trained judicial actors and religious and traditional community authorities to enforce laws and prevent CEFM. USAID has worked closely with the Government of Ethiopia’s Offices of Women’s Affairs at the regional and local levels to defer or cancel pre-arranged CEFMs.

These are just some of our efforts to combat CEFM. The United States is committed to continuing such efforts to provide a brighter future for girls. Thank you for your attention.