FOREIGN Affairs Minister John Baird on Tuesday presented the 2014 John Diefenbaker Defender of Human Rights and Freedom Award to Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage during a ceremony in Ottawa. This is the first of three awards that will be presented over the coming weeks.
Receiving the award on behalf of the organization was Princess Mabel van Oranje, Chair of the Board of Trustees for Girls Not Brides, as well as two tireless activists from the Girls Not Brides network, Dr. Ashok Dyalchand, Director, Institute of Health Management- Pachod (India), and Amina Hanga, Executive Secretary, Isa Wali Empowerment Initiative (Nigeria).
Baird in his specceh said: “Girls Not Brides represents over 400 civil society organizations from more than 60 countries around the world that have united to end child, early and forced marriage.
“This includes, I am very proud to say, a number of Canadian organizations present here today.
“In the four short years since the organization’s creation, they have become the leading global advocacy organization on ending child marriage.
“Her Royal Highness Princess Mabel van Oranje spearheaded the creation of Girls Not Brides. It was a spin-off of The Elders Foundation, which was founded by Nelson Mandela in 2007 to bring together global leaders to work together for peace and human rights.
“The wise and inspiring leaders of that organization recognized child marriage as one of the most pressing development challenges of our time.
“In all parts of the world, Girls Not Brides gives a voice to those who are silenced by child marriage. They do this by calling for new laws, sharing best practices and engaging with communities.
“Mabel is joined today by two colleagues representing some of these organizations.
“Dr. Ashok Dyalchand is the Director of the Institute for Health Management-Pachod in India, the country with the highest number of child brides in the world.
“His organization provides support to adolescent girls, particularly in the critical area of health, in an effort to prevent child marriages and to support girls who are already married.
“We are also joined by Amina Hanga, who is the Executive Secretary of Isa Wali Empowerment Initiative. This organization is dedicated to empowering women and girls in Nigeria, in a region where three out of four girls are married before turning 18.
“Through this event this afternoon, we will learn about the challenging work of our three guests, their tremendous courage and what inspired them to become involved in the movement to end child marriage.
“Currently, 700 million girls and women alive today were married as children.
“This isn’t a cultural nuance or a women’s issue—the impact on health and freedom of so many young girls adds up to a human tragedy.
“Global efforts to reduce the practice are having an impact, but change has not been fast enough.
“We are running against the treadmill of population growth.
“So unless we increase the rate of decline even more, the absolute number of young girls and women affected by child marriage will stay the same between now and 2050.
“This is why Canada has made ending child, early and forced marriage a foreign policy and development priority.
“Canada spearheaded the creation of the International Day of the Girl Child, which focused on child, early and forced marriage in its first year.
“We were also leaders on the first stand-alone resolutions on this issue at the Human Rights Council and United Nations General Assembly last year. This year, Canada and Zambia are co-leading a resolution on the same issue in New York, which we expect will be adopted in the coming days with significant support. This is yet another signal of the international community’s recognition of the importance of this issue.
“Canada has also intensified programming efforts to end child, early and forced marriage, both through our commitment to maternal, newborn and child health, and through targeted projects, like our $20-million contribution to UNICEF in July.
“I can also announce today that Canada will commit an additional $10 million towards these efforts.
“This new funding will be provided to CARE Canada for projects in Mali and Benin, to Save the Children Canada for projects in Pakistan and Nigeria, to Plan Canada for projects in Bangladesh and Zimbabwe and to Girls Not Brides toward institutional support.”