Child Marriage and Child Labour

Where did all the girls go?

#undc17 UNISON conference was riveted by a debate on an issue many people may not have heard of – getting recognition for the labour of girls forced into marriage as children. The International Labour Organisation (part of the UN but involving unions) campaigns against child labour. However, millions of young girls who are found in the figures for child labour suddenly disappear – it is estimated they number 15 million worldwide and have been forced into marriage as children. Because they are considered to be in ‘their own’ household, they are no longer counted.

We heard from Stephen Lewis, a Canadian campaigner who outlined the issues of abuse and exploitation suffered by girls – who are children and cannot give their consent to marriage or to what is in effect rape in a forced marriage. He pointed out that these ‘marriages’ really represent the girls’ labour being sold. It’s not ‘culture’ or choice – it’s abuse.

Delegates spoke with passion of their own and their families’ experience of this issue. One reported that there are around 500 cases in the UK itself every year and called on our government to take this exploitation seriously.

UNISON agreed to support a campaign for their labour, which ranges from work in the home to sexual exploitation, to be included in the ILO’s campaigns to eradicate child labour around the globe.