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Joint Letter by UNFPA and UNICEF Presented to Hon. Minister C. Bandara on International Day of the Girl Child 2016

12 October 2016

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

Hon. Minister,

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.

Yours sincerely,