The United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on Thursday calling for an end to child, early and forced marriage, and recognising child marriage as a violation of human rights, a move campaigners welcomed as crucial to progress on the issue.
The Council said the practice is a barrier to sustainable development which perpetuates poverty, throwing its support behind the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of eliminating child marriage and female genital mutilation.
The resolution recognised the need for national action plans to end the practice which affects some 15 million girls every year, and called on governments to ensure that women and girls are safe and free to make informed decisions on their sexuality.
More than 85 nations supported the the resolution, some with high rates of child marriage, Girls Not Brides said.
Activists said the resolution was an advance on other resolutions, including one adopted last year by the U.N. General Assembly by, for example, taking into consideration child, early and forced marriage in humanitarian and fragile situations.
Child marriage deprives girls of education and job opportunities, jeopardises their health and increases the risks of exploitation, sexual violence, domestic abuse and death in childbirth.
Children born to girls tend to be less healthy, less educated and poorer than those born to adults. Daughters often grow up to become child brides themselves, perpetuating abuse and poverty.
Earlier this year, African Union goodwill ambassador Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda said the practice should be seen as a form of modern slavery that is tantamount to sanctioning child rape.
The United Nations is expected to adopt the SDGs, which will replace the expired Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), in September.