Honorable Ms. K. D. M Chandrani Bandara
Minister of Women and Child Affairs Ministry of Women and Child Affairs
5th Floor, Sethsiripaya Stagg II Battaramulla
On the occasion of International Day of the Girl Child, we the undersigned, led by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), have come together with a common voice and purpose; to draw your attention to the issue of child marriage and teenage pregnancy, which threaten the health, lives and future prospects of girls across Sri Lanka.
While we realize that Sri Lanka has made huge progress in addressing child marriage and teenage pregnancy, too many Sri Lankan girls are still being deprived of a carefree childhood and the opportunity to realize their full potential. According to available statistics (2015) there are over 20,780 girls aged between 12 to 17 years in Sri Lanka who are married or in cohabiting relationships. According to the Family Health Bureau, 5.3% of all registered pregnancies are teenage pregnancies.
Honorable Minister, as you are well aware, child marriage is a grave violation of human rights. Not only does it negatively impact the education of girls, evidence shows that girls who marry or cohabit at a young age lack the power of decision making in sexual and reproductive matters, including family planning. They are at a high risk of maternal and reproductive health problems which include complications in pregnancy or childbirth and other long term health challenges. They are also more likely to experience domestic violence, including grave sexual abuse.
According to available research in Sri Lanka, socio-cultural practices and legal, economic and social security-related factors are the leading causes for child marriage and teenage preg- nancies. Without effective policies and committed action by the State, a key objective of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which is to “eliminate all harmful practices such as child, early and forced marriage”, will not be achieved here in Sri Lanka.
That is why, we, the undersigned, call on The Government of Sri Lanka to prioritize actions that will address these issues. We therefore urge:
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.
On the occasion of International Day of the Girl Child, we stand with the Government of Sri Lanka, and offer our support and commitment in this regard. With this commit- ment, we can achieve a Sri Lanka where all girls will have a childhood free from discrimination and violence, and a future of opportunity and choice.