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Ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth, Australia, the Royal Commonwealth Society and Plan International have issued a joint call for action in a new policy paper.

Entitled Empowering Girls: what the Commonwealth can do to end early and forced marriage, the paper reveals the shocking prevalence and damaging effects of early and forced marriage on girls across the Commonwealth.

The paper highlights that more than ten million girls are affected by the practice globally every year and of the 20 countries in the world where early and forced marriage is most prevalent, 12 are in the Commonwealth.

Associate Director of the Royal Commonwealth Society, Patrick Wintour says: "Today, early and forced marriage represents one of the greatest barriers to girls' education, maternal health and economic empowerment. We're asking leaders meeting in Perth to make good on the commitments they have already made as members of the Commonwealth by working together to end this practice. Now is the time to demonstrate a real commitment to change, not just in word, but in action."

Marie Staunton, Plan International's UK chief executive says: "Throughout the Commonwealth I've met with child brides who bitterly regret being forced to marry. At CHOGM 2011 Commonwealth leaders have the power to give millions of girls a future by ending this pernicious practice, which denies them their rights. Leaders must seize the moment and take action on this issue."

In 2011, the Commonwealth theme is 'Women as Agents of Change', offering leaders meeting in Perth the perfect opportunity to deliver tangible change for the women and girls who make up more than half of the Commonwealth's two billion people. An Eminent Persons Group - tasked with exploring options for Commonwealth reform - are also expected to put strengthening the Commonwealth's role in protecting and promoting human rights at the very heart of the recommendations for reform they make to leaders in Perth.

The policy paper's key recommendations include:

  • Ratifying relevant international human rights instruments and strengthening the enforcement of laws so every woman and girl is protected from being married against their will
  • Funding prevention programmes to support girls, their families and communities to choose education over marriage
  • Investing in support services for those who escape early and forced marriage

Download the paper here http://www.plan-uk.org/assets/Documents/pdf/Plan_CHOGM_Briefing_Paper_Ending_early_and_forced_marriage.pdf

Facts about Forced Marriage

One in every three girls in the developing world is married by the age of 18. One in seven marries before they reach the age of 15. In countries like Niger, Chad, Mali, Bangladesh, Guinea and the Central African Republic (CAR), the rate of early and forced marriage is 60 per cent and over. It is particularly high in South Asia (46 per cent) and in sub-Saharan Africa (38 per cent).

Countries with the highest rates of early and forced marriage in Europe include Georgia (17 per cent), Turkey (14 per cent) and Ukraine (10 per cent). At least 10 per cent of adolescents marry before the age of 18 in Britain and France.



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