To mark International Day of the Girl Child 2016, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) presented a unique joint letter, signed by over 50 UN agencies, non-governmental organizations, leading medical practitioners, academics and partners, highlighting the issues of child marriage and teenage pregnancy in Sri Lanka, and calling on the Government to continue its actions to address this vital issue. The letter also offers the full support of all named signatories.
The joint letter was presented to the Minister of Women and Child Affairs Chandrani Bandara by Dayania, a 21 year old advocate from the Province of Uva, an area with a number of instances of child marriage. Dayani was accompanied by Paula Bulancea, UNICEF Representative a.i. in Sri Lanka and Alain Sibenaler, UNFPA Representative in Sri Lanka and the Maldives. The letter highlighted that while Sri Lanka has made substantial progress, some Sri Lankan girls are still being deprived of a carefree childhood and the opportunity to realize their full potential as a result of child marriage and teenage pregnancy.
According to UNICEF’s Child Marriage Baseline Estimate 2015, there are over 20,780 girls aged between 12 to 17 years in Sri Lanka who are married or in cohabiting relationships before they reach adulthood. Also, according to the Family Health Bureau, 5.3 per cent of all registered pregnancies are teenage pregnancies. In Sri Lanka, current socio-cultural practices and legal, economic and social security-related factors, are the leading causes of child marriage and teenage pregnancies.
Attending the joint letter presentation, Paula Bulancea, UNICEF Representative a.i. in Sri Lanka commented:
“Child marriage not only violates the human rights of girls, it has a real negative effect on their futures, impacting their education, their health and the economic and social prospects of themselves, their children and their communities.In the week of International Day of the Girl Child, we are acknowledging the real progress Sri Lanka has made, but also asking the government to continue this strong work, for the benefit of all Sri Lankan girls”
Speaking at the joint letter presentation, Alain Sibenaler, UNFPA Representative in Sri Lanka added: “With continued action by the government, and with the support of the United Nations, our partners and civil society here in Sri Lanka, we can achieve a key objective of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which is to ‘eliminate all harmful practices such as child, early and forced marriage’, and ultimately a Sri Lanka where all girls can have a childhood free from discrimination and violence, and a future of opportunity and choice.”
Over 50 signatories to the letter offered support to the Government of Sri Lanka in prioritizing three actions, specifically that:
- The national legal framework be fully brought in line with the requirements of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) regarding the age of marriage, and that these laws are fully enforced to ensure the rights of girls across the nation;
- The root causes of child marriage and teenage pregnancy be addressed, and alternative social, economic and civic opportunities for girls and their families be created;
- The strengthening of support services, and the enhancement of advocacy to ensure increased awareness among girls, their families and communities on the effects of child marriage and teenage pregnancy on sexual and reproductive health.