New York

11 October 2012

Secretary-General's remarks at High-level Panel on Child Marriage on the occasion of the International Day of the Girl Child

The International Day of the Girl Child is an important addition to the UN calendar.

I thank the Member States and civil society groups who worked together to make it happen.

I also extend my gratitude to UNFPA, UNICEF, UN Women and Girls not Brides for organizing this event.

Empowering girls is a moral imperative -- a matter of basic justice and equality. 

It is an obligation under human rights laws and conventions.

And it is critical for achieving the Millennium Development Goals, advancing economic growth and building peaceful, cohesive societies. 

When we help girls realize their goals, we help the world to realize our goals of reducing poverty, hunger, disease, environmental degradation and violence.

Investing in girls is a catalyst for changing the world.

This new observance is a platform for sending that message far and wide.

It is also a day on which we must highlight the alarming levels of discrimination, violence and abuse that girls still face all over the world.

Perhaps nothing illustrates this point better than the issue we are focusing on today: child marriage.

Child marriage divorces girls from opportunity, and undermines their well-being.

Child marriage disrupts girls’ education, increases their exposure to abuse, jeopardizes their health and results in early and unwanted pregnancies – an often life-threatening risk.

Education is one of the best defences.  My new Education First initiative aims to put millions of children in school.

There has been progress on the legal front – new policies and laws.

Yet if present trends continue, over the next decade close to 150 million girls will be married by their 18th birthday.

We must all do our part to let girls be girls, not brides.

There is much to do, and many obstacles in our path.

We see this in the entrenched mindsets that still treat women and girls as second-class citizens.

And we see it in the recent heinous attack on these three school girls in Pakistan.

The main target -- Malala Yousufzai -- is an inspiring young woman.

Wise beyond her years, she is a champion of girls’ education and girls’ rights, including at a children’s assembly organized last year by UNICEF.

She is truly courageous -- determined not to be silenced even as she knew the very real risks of speaking her mind.

The attack on her was abhorrent and cowardly.  The terrorists showed what frightens them most: a girl with a book. 

Nowhere in the world should it be an act of bravery for a young girl to go to school.

We must all join together to counter such extremism and violence – not only in Pakistan, but anywhere that girls’ rights and human rights are at risk.

The global outpouring of support for Malala shows that this is a shared struggle that resonates widely.  The widespread outrage against the attack in Pakistan shows that the would-be assassins do not speak for the people, there or anywhere. 

We must work together for the day when every girl is treated with dignity and respect.

That is what this observance is about.  I look forward to working with all of you to realize the potential of this new day – and so that all girls can realize their potential.

Thank you very much.