Accelerating an End to Child Marriage: Girls as Drivers of Change

March 28, 2018

During this year’s Commission on the Status of Women, UNICEF USA and Zonta International came together to host a panel discussion with representatives from Zonta International, UNICEF, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Girls Not Brides, and a youth delegate for the National Alliance of Women’s Organisations (NAWO). 

Today, one in five girls will be married. Child marriage is driven by poverty, gender inequality, customary laws, inadequate policy, and more. Not only is this a violation of human rights, but it also has negative impacts on health, education, and future earnings.

Worldwide, an estimated 650 million women alive today were married as children, and if we do not accelerate our efforts to end child marriage, over 150 million girls will marry by 2030. Global momentum and opportunities to make significant progress on ending child marriage have never been more favorable, and so UNICEF and UNFPA have joined forces through the Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage. The program targets adolescent girls at risk of child marriage and married girls in 12 countries, with a focus on promoting the rights of girls to delay marriage, addressing the underlying conditions that perpetuate the practice, and supporting girls already in union.

During this year’s 2018 Commission on the Status of Women parallel event, UNICEF USA and Zonta International convened speakers to discuss progress and barriers in accelerating the end of child marriage, and how civil society partners can activate and advocate. 


(Left to Right) Nankali Maksud, Coordinator, UNFPA/UNICEF Program to End Child Marriage, Satvika Chalasani, Technical Specialist at UNFPA, Zoe Birchall, Global Policy & Advocacy Officer at Girls Not Brides, and Sonja Hӧnig Schough, President of Zonta International. © UNICEF USA/Procida

Nankali Maksud, who is the Coordinator for the UNFPA/UNICEF program and works out of UNICEF headquarters, mentioned that through this program it is “critical we reach girls in rural settings as they are the most marginalized, most vulnerable, and most at risk.” Satvika Chalasani, Technical Specialist at UNFPA, added that through this program girls are empowered to finally speak up to their parents and negotiate with their parents to delay marriage until they complete school or are of 18 years of age.

The reach and impact of child marriage programmes is being expanded through partnerships with Civil Society Organizations, such as Zonta International and Girls Not Brides. Civil Society Organizations can connect with each other and share key learnings. Zoe Birchall, Global Policy & Advocacy Office at Girls Not Brides, spoke on the idea that through sharing and partnering with each other, they can amplify the work of eliminating child marriage. She continued that “civil society can make that link between local and global communities” and hold governments accountable for their actions.


(Second from right) Sonja Hӧnig Schough, President of Zonta International speaking on the impact civil society has on ending child marriage. © UNICEF USA/Procida 

Sonja Hӧnig Schough, President of Zonta International and Zonta International Foundation, stated “we need to plan for the future… we need laws, we need them implemented, we need them followed. We cannot give up – we need to accelerate our work.”  

We are in a critical time where it is not only important to stop child marriage, but also provide resources and support to those women and girls who are already married. “We must fight it whenever we see it,” Sonja mentioned in her call to action to the audience. She continued to reiterate that girls are already married and that “we [as civil society] need to make it possible for them to come back to school and have an opportunity.” It is crucial that all women and girls have an equal opportunity to succeed in life.

Emily Spellman, youth delegate for the National Alliance of Women’s Organisations (NAWO) left the audience with a powerful message to think about; “No matter the background we all have a possibility to stand up and raise awareness and make a change. It sends a shiver down my spine, knowing that this [child marriage] is still happening.”

Echoing the urgency for civil society to stand up and raise awareness, Zoe Birchall provided the audience with more calls to action. “Don’t become complacent. Talk about the issues. Talk about the figures. Talk about the impact child marriage has on girls. Spread awareness!” Satvika Chalasani added, “Go that extra mile to reach that girl in the hardest to reach place.”

With countless resources, and the most up-to-date information found on our partner websites, civil society can come together and act, locally and globally, to accelerate an end to child marriage and empower women and girls to be the drivers of change.


Pictured (left to right) Nankali Maksud,Satvika Chalasani, Zoe Birchall, Sonja Hӧnig Schough, Emily Spellman, and Rachel Steinberg, UNICEF USA.

Thanks to the support and partnership of civil society organizations, UNICEF and UNFPA can continue the fight to end child marriage by 2030, providing a safer, healthier and more productive future for women and girls everywhere.

In the 2016-2018 biennium, Zonta International is supporting Let Us Learn Madagascar, an integrated program focused on creating opportunities for vulnerable and excluded girls to realize their rights to an education in a secure and protective environment. Access to quality education is integral to the goal of ending child marriage.