Speech of Ms Astrid Bant, UNFPA Representative in Viet Nam at the National Workshop on Child Marriage

25 October 2016

Your Excellency Madame Truong Thi Mai, Politburo member and Head of the Mass Mobilization Commission of the Party Central Committee
Ms. Dao Hong Lan, Vice Minister of MOLISA;
Mr. Nguyen Viet Tien, Vice Minister of MOH;
Mr. Do Van Chien, Minister/ Chair of CEMA;
Representatives from Government ministries, social organizations, and research institutes;
International development partners, NGOs;
My fellow UN colleagues and media;  
Ladies and gentlemen;
A very good morning to you all,

Good morning ladies and gentlemen.

On behalf of the United Nations in Viet Nam (UNFPA, UNICEF and UN Women), I am very honoured to be here at this first-ever national workshop on Child Marriage to discuss on opportunities, gaps and challenges in ending child marriage in Viet Nam. I would like to thank the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA), General Office for Population and Family Planning (GOPFP) - Ministry of Health (MOH), Committee for Ethnic Minority Affairs (CEMA) for co-organizing this important event.

The international day of the girl child on 11 October, with the theme of “Girls’ Progress equals Goals’ Progress: A Global Girl Data Movement” was a call for action for increased investment in collecting and analyzing girl-focused, girl-relevant and sex-disaggregated data.

Our workshop is organized at the right time as we are one year into the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, improving data on girls and addressing the issues that are holding them back is critical for fulfilling the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The adoption of the SDGs, which includes a target on eliminating child marriage, presents us with an historic opportunity to help girls rewrite their futures.

Distinguished guests,

This year, more than 60 million 10-year-old girls worldwide will have started their journey through adolescence. Sadly, millions of them will be forced into adult responsibilities without full, free and informed consent.

Every day, close to 48,000 girls, many of them as young as age 10, are forced into marriages.

Every day, over 20,000 girls under age 18 give birth.

Girls who are child brides miss out on education, are more vulnerable to physical and sexual violence, and bear children before they are physically or emotionally prepared. The cycle of violence that begins in girlhood, carries over into womanhood and across generations.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Government of Viet Nam has issued laws and policies to address child marriage, including the Law on Marriage and Family (2014), the Child Law (2016) and the National Programme addressing child marriage 2015-2025.. However, at the community level, traditional and customary norms still allow girls younger than 18 to marry with the consent of parents in the name of culture.  

Child marriage is very diverse and has many faces, and we also have stereotypes about it. So we need to be sure we have the facts. In Viet Nam results from the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey shows that the proportion of young women aged 15-19, who are marriage or in unionwas 10.3 per cent in 2014. Child marriage doesn’t only happen among ethnic minority communities. Evidence shows that prevalence rates are high in the Northern Mountainous area, the Mekong River Delta and Central Highlands. According to the administrative data system of Viet Nam, in some communes, the child marriage rate is over 50 per cent. Among ethnic minority communities, H’Mong people have the highest child marriage rate of 33 per cent, followed by Thai people of 23 per cent.

Child marriage also affects boys but at a lower rate than for girls. Child marriage is strongly associated with lower levels of socio-economic development. Provinces with higher HDI ranking have lower levels of chiId marriage.

Where prevalent, child marriage functions as a social norm. Marrying girls under 18 years old is rooted in gender discrimination, encouraging premature and continuous child bearing and giving preference to boys’ education. It is a strategy for managing adolescent sexuality and teen pregnancy, especially for girls. And child marriage is also a strategy for economic survival as families marry off their daughters at an early age to reduce their economic burden.

Distinguished guests,

In this context, I would like to highlight some key messages for our discussion.

First, gender equality has been placed at the core of the SDGs. It not only established a standalone goal on gender equality, Goal 5, but also set gender-sensitive targets across other goals. This means that investment in gender equality needs to be prioritized in all areas and all sectors, from rural development and agriculture to health, education, water and sanitation, social protection and infrastructure development. All government bodies need to ensure that their planning, decision-making, policy action, budgeting and monitoring reflect the needs of women and men and benefit all women and girls.

Second, child marriage cannot be addressed without empowerment of young people, especially girls including improving access to information and opportunities to continue their schooling, building their life skills,  providing safe spaces to learn, play and make friends, delivering sexual and reproductive health and HIV information and services, and improving their economic and social well-being. This is about both prevention and response – we need to ensure already married girls also have options and opportunities - it’s about making sure all young people have choices and a future.

Third, it is also critical to change mindset and attitude of people, including parents, elders, religious and other leaders on the dangers of child marriage, promote the rights of girls, and find community-owned, collective solutions to discourage and eventually end the practice.

Fourth, tackling inequality and discrimination requires going beyond averages. To do so we need better disaggregated data, better knowledge of the impact of multiple forms of discrimination on the rights of different groups of women, and appropriate responses through laws, policies, programmes and changes in social norms and gender stereotypes.

This underscores the importance of gender mainstreaming in minority rights frameworks and vice versa, and the acknowledgement of the special circumstances of ethnic minority women in law and policy.
Ladies and gentlemen,

Addressing child marriage is a key component of the UN’s work to uphold gender equality and the rights of children, adolescents and youth. We support partnerships and advocacy efforts to raise awareness about child marriage, including its causes and consequences. We also work with the government and partners at all levels to foster supportive policies, legislation and dialogue to promote the dignity and rights of both married and unmarried girls. And by generating data and building the evidence base, we help inform government policy and programming that is holistic, and based on girls’ and young people needs and realities, to better prevent and respond to the risks of child marriage.

Child marriage is a complex problem – no single intervention alone will be effective, and it requires a multi-sectoral, multi-stakeholder approach. The scale of the problem requires all of us – the government, international development community, the United Nations, CSOs and community people – to act together. All of us need to join hands to give back to children, their choices, their dreams, their futures and their childhoods.

Thank you very much for your attention and I look forward to our and productive and fruitful discussions. And I wish you all good health and happiness.