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Protecting the Rights of Children

One of the Graça Machel Trust’s key focus areas is the quest to end child marriages and ensure that all children receive a sound education. Mrs Machel herself was instrumental in the establishment of the Elders’ campaign Girls Not Brides in 2010, which aims to restore dignity to girls by ending the practice of early child marriage (ECM).

On 26 August 2014 another campaign launched, this one in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Organised under the tri-partite alliance of the Trust, the Tanzania’s Children’s Dignity Forum (CDF), and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the launch was well attended by some 400 people. Guests included former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa, ministers, religious leaders, civil society organisations – including the Tanzania Ending Child Marriage network – the private sector, and members of the diplomatic corps, as well as UN agencies based in the country.

Various faiths were represented by the head of the Muslim Council, and members of the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches.

The campaign operates under the brand of “Child Marriage-Free Zone”. It aims to strengthen national dynamics for ending child marriage, while ensuring the realisation of the rights of girls and women through interventions aimed at both the rights holders, i.e. the girls themselves, and the duty bearers in the Mara region and nationally.

Make the campaign known far and wide

Attendees were unanimous in denouncing ECM.

"We should not use poverty as an excuse to marry off our girls!" said Mrs Machel. "We can end child marriage in one generation," she added, but for this to happen messages and programmes must not only target governments and leaders, but also families – this is because child marriage happens in the family, at the family level.

The chairperson of the Muslim Council informed those present that Islam does not encourage child marriage. In fact, it encourages and prioritises education.

Former President Mkapa urged children not to wait for governments, organisations and others to help them realise their rights. Rather, they should immediately shout louder and make noise about their issues until the duty bearers take action accordingly.

All agreed that the way forward involves a broadening of the campaign, and bringing on board more stakeholders and partners. Other regions with high ECM prevalence rates, such as Shinyanga and Tabora, must be included as soon as possible.

It’s also important to engage with young people now who might become parents in future, so that they will protect the rights of their girls when the time comes, said UNFPA.

"We anticipate that the collaborative efforts among CDF, UNFPA and the Graça Machel Trust launch will boost the visibility and understanding about the urgency of taking steps to end the practice of child marriage," commented Dr Natalia Kanem from UNFPA, Tanzania.

For more information see #TZchildmarriagefreezone on Facebook and Twitter