About the Campaign

Child Marriage is Child Labour is a campaign by AIDS-Free World, an international advocacy organization co-directed by Paula Donovan and Stephen Lewis. Our work on child marriage stems from the concern that girls forced into marriage prematurely are at an especially high risk of contracting HIV from their older, more sexually experienced "husbands"—and HIV now affects adolescent girls at rates much higher than those of their male counterparts. Young girls are particularly vulnerable to infection because their vaginal tissues are not yet mature enough for intercourse.  Girls in marriages to older men lack equal power to negotiate safer sex and are isolated, removed from school and peer networks, and have little access to HIV information or services. 

Why focus on the ILO? Recognizing that child "marriage" is child labour is not merely a rhetorical step in the battle against child "marriage", it could bring real results in ending the problem. Our focus on the ILO is not accidental, and is certainly not born of a desire to disparage or diminish the ILO’s work. On the contrary, the ILO is an enormously powerful and effective UN agency. It sets the world’s standards for labour rights and for eliminating child labour. The ILO's International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour is the largest program of its kind globally, with operations in 88 countries, including 16 of the 20 countries with the highest rates of child marriage. It is this effectiveness that makes their stance on this issue so important. There are many potential benefits of the ILO’s recognition of child "marriage" as child labour:

  • It will ensure that girls are not neglected in the global fight against child labour.
  • It will engage all three powerful groups of ILO constituents: governments, business coalitions, and trade unionists, to work together in-country on the issue of child “marriage.”
  • It will ensure that the 187 member countries of the ILO provide better and more accurate data on child "marriage" and take stronger action to protect girls’ rights. 
  • It will signify that the ILO is finally acknowledging, counting, and properly addressing a practice that destroys the health of girls, robs them of sexual and reproductive choices, puts them at lifelong high risk of sexually transmitted infections, and exponentially increases their chances of dying in childbirth.  It will help to address the frighteningly high rates of HIV amongst adolescent girls by highlighting underage marriage as a serious but much-ignored risk factor.

As a first step, we are working with one part of the ILO's tripartite structure, trade unions, to urge the ILO to take a principled stance and announce their attention to treat child "marriage" as a worst form of child labour.  This will place the focus of advocacy efforts squarely where it needs to be: on the girls. At its core, child “marriage” is about the violation and subjugation of women around the world.  By recognizing the phenomenon of child “marriage” as child labour, the ILO, together with organizations devoted to abolishing child "marriage", can take an active role in ending it.