African Ministers of Health and Education Commit to End Child Marriage by 2020

By Yemurai Nyoni, Youth SRHR Advocate


Ministers of Health and Education from 21 countries in the East and Southern African region have committed to end child marriage as part of a broader commitment to ensure comprehensive sexuality education for young people in the region by 2015. The commitment was endorsed on the 7th of December 2013 during the on-going 17th International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa and is titled the ‘Ministerial Commitment on comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents and young people in Eastern and Southern African (ESA)’.


The commitment recognizes “the responsibility of the State to promote human development, including good quality education and good health, as well as to implement effective strategies to educate and protect all children, adolescents and young people, including those living with disabilities, from… all forms of discrimination and rights violations including child marriage;”. It also acknowledges that “Child marriage remains a serious obstacle to the realization of all rights for young people, notably adolescent girls and young women, and has direct and negative impact on their education, health and social status.”

To ensure that concrete steps are taken by the countries to address this issue, one of the 9 goals of the commitment is to “eliminate child marriage” by 2020. The ministries of health and education have agreed to carry out a number of interventions to achieve this goal including through amending laws, keeping young people in school and providing rights based, gender sensitive comprehensive sexuality education.


What I love about this commitment is the effort it undertakes to not replace already existing outcome documents but to scale up delivery on prior commitments. It also has a strong accountability component in which the ministers have agreed to “establish an inter-ministerial, multi-sectoral mechanism… to strengthen planning, coordination and to monitor the implementation” of the commitment and related declarations. The ministers also agreed to “review and report on this Commitment annually at SADC and EAC Summits involving the relevant ministers through national status reports”


In as much as this is a high level ministerial commitment, this is also our document as young people because it’s targeted at us. As we have declared, ‘anything for us without us is against us’ I encourage you to share the commitment document as widely as you can and create local level plans to hold your ministries of health and education accountable for their commitment. I also urge you to visit to get resources and other links that can help you ensure that actions accompany the commitments of your leaders.

If this commitment is effectively resourced and acted on then it will definitely halt and potentially reverse the growth of child marriage in the region. According to projections by UNICEF, if present trends continue, 142 million girls will be married before their 18th birthday over the next decade. That’s an average of 14.2 million girls each year1 and in a region that has a very high prevalence of child marriage, the time to act is now. Find the document here.