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African campaigners come together to tackle child marriage

“We ought to do everything in our power to ensure girls can become all they can be.” Desmond Tutu

In November, Desmond Tutu and Graça Machel took part in a Girls Not Brides conference discussing how to end child marriage in Sub-Saharan Africa. The event in South Africa brought together activists, campaigners and experts from across the continent.

Earlier this month, Desmond Tutu and Graça Machel joined over 90 member organisations, associates and supporters of Girls Not Brides for a meeting in Johannesburg to discuss how to end child marriage in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Founded by The Elders in 2011, Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage brings together non-governmental organisations committed to ending child marriage. Since its inception, Girls Not Brides has grown to a membership of over 200 organisations from more than 40 countries across Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas.

The meeting on 6-7 November brought together activists, campaigners and experts from 24 countries across Sub-Saharan Africa. Together, they discussed how they can collaborate to end child marriage in the region, where 38 per cent of girls are married before reaching the age of 18.

Desmond Tutu and Graca Machel speaking at the Girls Not Brides conference in South Africa, November 2012

Desmond Tutu and Graça Machel speaking at the Girls Not Brides conference in South Africa, November 2012
Photo: Marc Dryden-Schofield | Girls Not Brides

Speaking at the opening of the meeting, Desmond Tutu explained why he is so passionate about ending child marriage: “It is the same reason as when more than half of the population of South Africa was condemned to a life of deprivation. It is unconscionable that a child of God should be condemned to a life that is less than full just because she is a girl. We ought to do everything in our power to ensure girls can become all they can be.”

Child marriage occurs in virtually every country in Africa and represents both a human rights violation and an impediment to development. This harmful practice puts a girl’s health at risk, curtails her education and prevents her from fulfilling her potential. While change remains slow, the combined efforts of activists around the world have led to real momentum on the issue.

Graça Machel encouraged the participants to share best practices and emphasised that changing cultural norms and practices – no matter how entrenched – is possible: “I am here as one of those people who believe that we can change these norms in one generation – we can change how communities think about girls.”

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