Blog: Child marriage is child labour

Today – 8 March – marks International Women’s Day. For UNISON, with a million women in membership, this is obviously a significant date. UNISON women are at the heart of everything our union does – leading our campaigns, deciding our policies and keeping our union and public services strong.

This is a day to celebrate the achievements of women, including those we’re proud to know. But it’s also a day to remember the battles won by women and the struggles still faced by women around the world.

One of the most grievous examples of mistreatment of women worldwide is child marriage.

Earlier this week the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that child marriage has decreased by 15 per cent over the last decade. Whilst this is welcome news, it is staggering that 21 per cent of girls across the world are still subjected to this horrendous form of abuse.

Child marriage is one of the worst forms of child labour and a terrible violation of a girl’s human rights. Girls are often trafficked or sold, sexually abused, denied the right to an education and forced to perform hazardous, unpaid work for long hours.

When world leaders gathered at the United Nations in September 2015 to approve the Sustainable Development Goals, they promised to end child marriage by 2030. Until now global efforts have mainly focused on education, investment in adolescent girls and positive public messaging.

All of these are important, but on their own will not end child marriage.

In recent years the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has led global efforts to end child labour, but have completely ignored the labour performed by the millions of girls in illegal child marriages. If these girls were protected by the ILO’s legally binding international convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour, governments would be forced to act and the ILO could invest its resources to end this terrible crime.

Sadly the ILO doesn’t classify the hazardous work performed by a child bride as child labour, ignoring the plight of the millions of girls.

I was immensely proud last June when UNISON’s National Delegate Conference voted unanimously to support the campaign to end child marriage. Many delegates bravely and passionately described the horrendous impact that child marriage has had on them and their families. Our union is now working with AIDS-Free World and an increasing number of unions across the world on this vital campaign.

Today I wrote to Guy Ryder, Director-General of the United Nations International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the UK government, to urge them to support the campaign. You can find a copy of the letter here.

This International Women’s Day it is important that we stand up for equality in every workplace; for decent work and freedom from violence and harassment for women everywhere.

Child marriage is child labour and together we can end it.

Read more about our “Child Marriage is Child Labour” campaign here.