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Image courtesy of the State Department
Melanne Verveer, second from left, met with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin and others on Oct. 10, 2012, to discuss $109 million in programs aimed at curbing child marriage.

On Oct. 10, 2012—just one day before the first International Day of the Girl Child—Melanne Verveer, U.S. ambassador-at-large for Global Women’s Issues, joined Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in announcing $109 million in publicly and privately funded programs aimed at curbing child marriage worldwide. 

In the midst of all that, Ambassador Verveer took a few moments to answer some questions from Too Young To Wed, as well as to post her own blog addressing child marriage, which you can read here.

Q: Why is the issue of child marriage important to the State Department, and what role does the department play in helping end the practice?

Under this Administration, Secretary Clinton has made the advancement of the status of women and girls a critical pillar of our foreign policy—not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it is the smart thing to do.

We are working to convey to our counterparts around the world that progress for girls and women and progress for nations go hand in hand.  We know child marriage has devastating consequences not just for the girls themselves, but for communities and nations since it often traps both girls and their families in cycles of poverty and disempowerment.  Child marriage deprives girls of critical educational and economic empowerment opportunities, prevents them from developing to their full potential, puts their reproductive and overall health and development at risk, makes them more vulnerable to violence, and undermines the full enjoyment of their human rights.

Investing in girls, working to end child marriage and promoting girls’ education can reap dividends not only for the girls themselves, but for entire families, communities and nations.

Image courtesy of the State Department

Q: The announcement on Oct. 10 included a number of initiatives aimed at curbing child marriage rates. I don’t expect you to go through each and every one of them, but are there any that you’re particularly excited about or optimistic about that you’d like to highlight?

First, we are strengthening reporting on child marriage in the State Department’s annual Human Rights Reports.  By doing this, we signal to the world that child marriage is a fundamental threat to the human rights of girls and women.  USAID is supporting a pilot program in Bangladesh to test approaches to addressing the issue of child marriage, including through the promotion of health, education and legal rights.

Studies show that education can delay and even prevent child marriage. Girls with secondary schooling are up to six times less likely to marry as children when compared to girls who have little or no education. And educated girls are not only less likely to marry young, but also are more likely to earn better incomes, and have fewer and healthier children.

Since education is such a potent weapon against child marriage, we are also working to support girls’ education.  USAID and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) unveiled a five-year initiative to help adolescent girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) make successful transitions to secondary school.  The State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) also will support teacher exchanges to improve girls’ education around the world.

Finally, I’m excited by the new commitments the UNFPA and several private foundations – Ford, MasterCard and MacArthur – recently announced to address child marriage and promote girls’ secondary education. Putting an end to child marriage and ensuring every girl can go to school requires leadership from all sectors of society – not just governments, but private foundations, civil society, families and individuals.