New Delhi: Observing that more than 40 percent of child marriages in the world occur in India, the heads of four UN agencies in India on Thursday called upon the government to pay urgent attention to this and work toward the goal of ending the "harmful practice".
The heads of UNICEF, UNFPA, UN Women and UN Information Centre Thursday wrote to Women and Child Development Minister Krishna Tirath on the issue of child marriage to mark the first International Day of the Girl Child.
The UN agencies asked the Indian government to take the lead in pressing for incremental action to fight the scourge of child marriages in the country.
"Today, 11 October, is the UN's first International Day of the Girl Child. For its first observance, this year's day focuses on child marriage, which is a fundamental human rights violation and impacts all aspects of a girl's life," the letter read.
"More than 40 percent of the world's child marriages happen in India. In eight states of the country, more than half of young girls are married before the age of 18," the letter said.
"Child marriage is not a solution to protecting girls from sexual crimes including rape. In fact, child marriage denies a girl of her childhood, disrupts her education, limits her opportunities, increases her risk to be a victim of violence, jeopardizes her health and, therefore, constitutes an obstacle to the achievement of nearly every Millennium Development Goal and the development of healthy communities," the letter stressed.
"There is an urgent need to raise awareness on the negative consequences of child marriage for girls and for society as a whole, " the letter said, adding the UN "re-affirms its commitment to working hand in hand with the Government of India to deliver a multi sectoral response to addressing child marriage, including strengthening law enforcement, investing in the education of girls and giving them skills to become economically empowered."
The letter was jointly signed by Frederika Meijer, Country Representative, UN Population Fund (UNFPA); Louis-Georges Arsenault, representative, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF); Anne Stenhammer, Regional Programme Director, UN Women, South Asia Sub Regional Office; and Kiran Mehra-Kerpelman, Director, UN Information Centre for India and Bhutan.
The United Nations General Assembly on Dec 19 last year adopted a resolution to declare Oct 11 as the International Day of the Girl Child, calling all member countries to recognize the rights of girls.