White Ribbon Alliance

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Invest in young people to end child marriage & maternal mortality

October 27, 2015
This article was initially published by Maternal Health Task Force

By Kenny Simbaya, White Ribbon Alliance Citizen Reporter

On September 25, 2015 at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, 193 Member States of the UN unanimously adopted the post-2015 development goals christened Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They are 17 in total with 169 targets. They were received with both optimism and skepticism.

The SDGs are an opportunity to end extreme poverty, hunger, protect the planet and end preventable maternal, newborn and child deaths. To achieve these goals, we need accountability and citizen engagement.

As an advocate for maternal and newborn health issues, I would like to share some thoughts on Sustainable Development Goal 3, which is about ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages. The health and well-being of mothers is central to this goal, and if we collectively work to achieve it, the new generation of women will enjoy one of their most respected responsibilities – that of bringing a new life.

However, ending maternal and newborn death will remain a pipe dream unless we invest in young people with a special focus on girls. Ensuring girls enjoy their human rights just like boys do, will mean that we work hard to end child marriage.

Statistics from UNFPA show that 70,000 adolescents die annually from causes related to pregnancy and child birth: pregnancy-related complications, together with HIV, are the leading causes of death among girls 15 to 19 years old. In fact, the risk of maternal death for mothers younger than 18 in low- and middle-income countries is double that of older females. During this year’s UNGA, a young mother of two and White Ribbon Alliance Citizen Reporter from West Bengal, India, Santana Murmu (now 18), shared her own experience of being married at 14. She now advocates for the improvement of maternal health and campaigns to end early marriage everywhere.

“The world must stand together to condemn child marriage as it has adverse impact to the development and health of both the child-bride and that of her would-be newborn,” shared Murmu.

To achieve this objective, we must engage young people. Children that are now 15 years old were newborns when the Millennium Development Goals were launched in 2000. When the SDGs come to an end, these children will be 30 years old. The SDGs are a young people’s agenda – they will be the ones to implement it.