Child marriage and early pregnancy is a global concern, particularly in areas such as Eastern and Southern Africa, where pregnancy rates range from 15 % in certain countries to over 25% - some of the highest in the world. It has a major impact on the lives of adolescents, especially girls, in terms of their health, social, economic and education outcomes.
UNESCO Member States have come together for the first time on this issue, expressing deep concern over the continuing negative impact on the duration and quality of girls’ education as a result of child, early and forced marriage, and early and unintended pregnancy, emphasising that education is a human right for all girls.
The Government of Zambia proposed a draft resolution to the 207th session of UNESCO’s Executive Board in October 2019 that stressed the need for all Member States to do more to ensure that all girls, including those affected by child marriage and early pregnancy, not only attend school but also receive a quality education. The decision calls on Member States to provide extra budgetary resources, and invites the Director-General to strengthen UNESCO’s public awareness efforts and implement concrete measures to address the problem.
Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, African Union Goodwill Ambassador to End Child Marriage, has welcomed the decision, which she said reflected not only a commitment to girls’ education, but also to their rights and well-being for a lifetime. “Maintaining girls in school is key to preventing child, early and forced marriages. At the same time re-entry back to school for survivors of such abuse creates opportunities for rebuilding the social and economic assets of these girls,” she said.
Examples of UNESCO initiatives
The resolution notes UNESCO’s “Her education, Our future” initiative, which seeks to accelerate action for girls’ and women’s education and the Organization’s work to deliver the “Our rights, Our lives, Our future” (03) programme, focused on strengthening policies and practices to provide good quality education for girls and boys throughout sub-Saharan Africa.
One of the largest initiatives to reduce new HIV infections, early and unintended pregnancy, gender-based violence, and child marriage, the 03 programme is expected to reach 20 million learners in 64,000 primary and secondary schools, 47, 000 pre-service teachers, and 367,000 in-service teachers, all across sub-Saharan Africa.
The programme supported by the new Let’s Talk campaign, launched by UNESCO, UNFPA, SAFAIDS, and Save the Children, to encourage a dialogue around the issue of early and unintended pregnancy. The campaign, which has garnered high-level support in the region, demonstrates the commitment by education, health and other policy makers to ensuring that adolescents have the knowledge, agency and support to prevent early and unintended pregnancies and reach their full potential.
The resolution adopted by the Executive Board is based on UNESCO’s key role in contributing to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); notably SDG 5, which aims to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, and SDG 4, on inclusive and equitable quality education.