International Development CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by World Vision UK

World Vision welcomes the commitment by DFID to ending violence against women and girls. We supports global and UK Government initiatives to empower women in peace-building and combating sexual and gender based violence in conflict and humanitarian emergencies. World Vision is encouraged by the cooperation between DFID and the FCO on the Prevention of Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI), and recognises the evidence of this collaborative approach recently, for example through sharing knowledge of the local context in Syria.

Preventing gender based and sexual violence requires a holistic approach, with the prosecutions that make up the PSVI a key element of this but not the only one. Sustainable and effective prevention requires building a protective environment—including changing the attitudes that allow sexual violence to occur, that create a culture of impunity, and that fail to prioritise the availability of services that meet the needs of survivors.

DFID’s ‘A Theory of Change for Tackling Violence against Women and Girls’ rightly recognises the erosion of protection systems, social structures and infrastructure, the breakdown of social norms and support networks in humanitarian crises, highlighting how this increases women’s and children’s vulnerability to violence. However, this understanding is not reflected in DFID’s policy commitments to action. Preventing sexual and other forms of violence—including early and forced marriage—requires targeted investment in human security and protection systems. DFID’s Theory of Change recognises that transforming attitudes is a long term process beyond the timescale for the action plan. This understanding must translate across all Whitehall initiatives to tackling protection issues which require a long term approach beyond government terms and funding cycles and necessitate a funding commitment to protection and child protection as a vital aspect of humanitarian response.

Prevention of violence against children is an integral part of all World Vision’s protection programming. World Vision lead on Protection at the Global Cluster level. This submission will explore the extent to which children are vulnerable to violence within conflict-affected and fragile states. Drawing on the experiences and expertise of World Vision staff globally, our evidence will show the prevalence of early marriage as a response to the threat of gender-based and sexual violence in fragile contexts, as well as other, key factors that facilitate early marriage as a form of violence against women and girls.

1. Children and Youth are the Most Vulnerable to Violence During Conflict

1.1 Children and youth constitute more than 50% of the populations of conflict-affected countries. As of 2010, over 1 billion children worldwide lived in countries or territories affected by armed conflict.1 Internal conflicts affect children more acutely than any other demographic. UN OCHA estimates that children account for roughly half of the 26 million people currently displaced by armed conflict and violence. In the modern world of conflict, more than 90% of casualties are civilians and almost half of these are children.2 War, extreme poverty, recurrent natural disasters, political volatility, migration, displacement and unreliable economic conditions create fear and anxiety that leaves children—both boys and girls—particularly exposed to violence and abuse.

1.2 Children are exposed to high levels of violence in fragile contexts, before, during and after conflict, which can significantly impact their beliefs, behaviours, future opportunities and aspirations. Not only is the protection of children from violence a most basic human right, it is also essential for the prevention of recurring violence. The long term impacts of violent conflict on children impact the emotional, physical, psychological health and wellbeing of a generation. Beliefs, practices and habits that foster violence easily become deeply embedded and can fuel repeated conflict unless addressed. Every civil war that began since 2003 was a resumption of a previous civil war and the majority of conflicts re-emerge within 10 years of a ceasefire.3

1.3 We applaud the Secretary of State for International Development for highlighting the link between conflict and humanitarian crises, the dramatic increases in physical and sexual violence as a result, and for recognising the lack of funding dedicated to addressing it.4 Indeed, protection is always underfunded. For example, the UN OCHA Consolidated Appeals Process (CAP) 2012 for Mali identified a relatively small requirement of US $17.71 million. Only US$ 6.51 (37%) was contributed.5 World Vision therefore recommends that DFID commit an increased proportion of funding to protection and child protection in emergencies.

1.4 World Vision commends the work lead by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on the Prevention of Sexual Violence Initiative, and calls for joined up working across Whitehall to remain prioritised across the UKs work on tackling violence against women and girls. We ask the UK to produce a cross-Whitehall strategy to reduce sexual violence in conflict and to leverage their international influence to ensure that all G8 countries do the same.

2. Early and Forced Marriage in Humanitarian Emergencies and Conflict

2.1 Early and forced marriage (EFM) is one of the greatest threats to the protection of women and girls today, with 13.5 million girls around the world marrying before their eighteenth birthday.6 A substantial body of evidence suggests that early marriage often increases in the immediate aftermath of conflict. Rates of early marriage tend to be high where poverty, birth and death rates are high; where civil conflict is commonplace; and where there are lower overall levels of development, including schooling, healthcare and employment.7 Additionally, children living in disaster-prone or fragile states, such as Niger or Somalia, are more likely to marry young. The absence of social protection and the breakdown of informal protection and welfare networks in fragile states contribute to an environment in which parents consider early marriage for their daughters as the best means of protection.

2.2 Natural disasters and slow onset emergencies such as drought provoke the same response in parents to marry off their daughters as a perceived means of protection. Following the tsunami of 2004, early marriage and other forms of sexualised violence increased in Indonesia. Families in refugee camps saw early marriage as the only protection for their daughters against the threat of rape.8 According to World Vision data gathered in Bangladesh, 62% of the total number of children under 18 married in the last 5 years were married in the 12 months following Cyclone Sidr in 2007. The insecurity of camp life, combined with the lack of opportunities for girls to enter the protective school environment, meant that more adolescent girls were married.

2.3 Communities across the globe naturally fear for the increased insecurity brought on by conflict and emergencies, anticipating a rise in rape and sexual violence. Rape and other forms of sexual violence against children is recognised by the UN as one of six categories of grave violations against children. Communities are right to fear, since women and girls do suffer disproportionately; and children know this too. Girls and women who lack the protective network of family and community are at even greater risk of experiencing violence, abuse and exploitation. During recent World Vision surveys in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in Sierra Leone, children identified sexual violence and exploitation, rooted in conflict, as the biggest threat to their protection. Adolescent girls suffer not only from the by-products of war, but have also been targeted with torture, rape, mass rape, forced prostitution, forced marriage, forced termination of pregnancy and mutilation in countries including Somalia, Afghanistan and Uganda.9 Such strategies are designed to humiliate the enemy, weaken families and break down the social fabric of communities and societies. They rely on lack of law enforcement and weak community protection structures.

2.4 In some communities affected by violent conflict and emergencies, one of the more perverse responses to the rape of girls is to ensure they are married to the perpetrator. World Vision research in Chad, Niger and Andean countries10 has found marriage deployed as a protective response for rape survivors. In Somaliland, where there was a surge in rape cases in 2010,11 religious and local leaders, parents and children informed us that marriage took place to protect girls from shame. The drought currently affecting Somaliland means that girls, with no chance of attending school, are having to walk longer distances to fetch water, firewood or to look after livestock in often hazardous and insecure areas. Girls in Somaliland tell World Vision staff that rape is a huge fear for young girls whose lives were affected by the drought. World Vision have found that the fear of rape can be so acute in a crisis that parents will often resort to early marriage for their daughters as a perceived protection from the threat. Fear of so-called ‘illegal pregnancies’ resulting from rape or from premarital sex were cited as a key push factor, in addition to the shame of engaging in pre-marital sex, despite resulting from rape. In discussions with World Vision staff, adults and children repeatedly identify the threat of sexual violence as a major cause of early marriage.

2.5 Anxiety and fear surrounding the sexual security of girls means that girls as young as 8 or 9 years may be married off to safeguard them against ‘immoral’ behaviour. The shame of pregnancy outside marriage is such that parents tell World Vision that they would rather take the risks involved with early marriage than face the shame attributed to girls who are seen as being sexually active before they are married. In Somaliland, girls who’ve engaged in premarital sex which has led to pregnancy are mistreated by local communities as a source of shame. As a result, many single mothers often end up in urban areas seeking work and lacking the protective network of the wider community. These women and girls are doubly vulnerable to gender-based and sexual violence as a result of both the threats in their environment and the lack of any protection available to them, either formal or informal.

2.6 In many fragile and emergency contexts, including Somaliland and Niger, World Vision has found that where girls are not attending school, they are often married off to protect them from the risk of shame that comes with premarital sex. There are myriad reasons why girls might not be in school ranging from inaccessibility, weak infrastructure, internal and external threats of violence, to poor quality education, lack of resources and under-qualified staff. In Bangladesh in 2007, many schools remained closed in the weeks and months after Cyclone Sidr. A study by the Government of Bangladesh found that the loss of the academic year meant that it became ‘very common’ for adolescent girls to be forced into marriage without their consent.12 Girls in Somaliland tell World Vision staff that the immediate alternative to schooling for them is marriage which ensures their respectability and safeguards their honour, where this is considered threatened if they are neither busy in school nor busy in the home. Girls who failed their primary certificate (mostly as a result of inexperienced teachers and limited access to books) in Niger say that they were often married early instead of continuing their education. Programme evaluation must include indicators that measure more than the enrolment rate of girls in schools if equal access to quality education is going to be achieved.

2.7 World Vision recommends that early marriage prevention mechanisms be mainstreamed into the UK’s emergency and humanitarian responses. Furthermore, we recommend that girls at high risk of dropping out of school due to early marriage be directly targeted, along with their families and communities, by programmes to improve access to education.

3. The Impact of Early Marriage on Women and Girls

3.1 Those who marry early are more likely to experience domestic violence, abuse and forced sexual relations. Early marriage forces girls into responsibilities for which they lack the emotional and physical maturity to cope. Women who marry young are more likely to be beaten or threatened and to believe that their husband might be justified in beating or raping them.13 In Niger, World Vision have come across several cases where girls were beaten for refusing sex to their husbands meaning that refusal of sex is rarely, if ever, an option for girls or women. Dowry violence is a recognised consequence of early marriage in south Asia. When parents fail to produce the promised dowry for their newly married daughters, girls are often beaten, tortured and, on occasion, killed.14 Although many parents and young women report that marriage is used as a strategy to protect girls from the threat of rape and sexual violence in fragile contexts, the stresses created by insecurity, by marriage itself, by immaturity and lack of negotiating power, mean that girls end up more exposed to abuse, including marital rape.

3.2 Those who marry early are more likely to experience reduced levels of sexual and reproductive health. A girl growing up in Chad today is more likely to die in childbirth than she is to attend school.15 Complications of pregnancy and childbirth are the main causes of death among adolescent girls ages 15–19 years old in developing countries.16 Problems such as obstructed labour can lead to chronic disabilities including fistula. Such deaths and debilitating conditions could be averted with access to essential maternity and basic healthcare services. These are sadly often weak or even non-existent in many fragile contexts. Problems can be further compounded by entrenched gender inequity and discrimination that manifests in poor human and systems capacity. In Somaliland, for example, NGO workers complained that girls are routinely refused medical treatment by male staff whose attitudes towards women are so discriminatory that patients often return home without any care at all. Time and again, girls voice that their access to health and protection services is compromised or blocked because of weak state capacity.

3.3 Marriage is a violation of children’s rights and a brutal curtailment of childhood. The impacts of early marriage on the lives of child spouses can be catastrophic, extending into adulthood and having long term, intergenerational affects on families and societies. Early marriage poses a serious challenge to extremely hard-won development gains in least developed countries. Early marriage often condemns girls to a life of serious ill-health, illiteracy, chronic and often extreme poverty. Many girls amongst the communities we work with in Bangladesh report that girls who are married are often taken away from their families, friends and communities, forced into social isolation without access to support networks that might help them to cope with the physical and emotional challenges of marriage.

3.4 World Vision calls on the UK Government to demonstrate global leadership in committing to ending early marriage by 2030, specifically through a public commitment by the UK Prime Minister to this global campaign. Additionally, World Vision recommends that early marriage be a priority issue in the Government’s Human Rights Agenda.

4. Female Genital Cutting as a Form of Violence Against Women and Girls

4.1 Female Genital Cutting (FGC) is a widespread form of violence carried out against women and girls in numerous countries worldwide, whether affected by conflict, fragility, or not. Although the practice is not linked to any one religion or culture, traditional conservative gender norms predominantly lie at the root of this practice and are linked to women’s value and fears around their sexual security. In Somaliland, FGC ranges from full infibulation to pricking or cutting (known as Sunna) and is closely linked to early marriage.17 Girls who have experienced Sunna are often considered more physically ‘sensitive’ and are therefore urged to marry young to avoid the temptations of premarital sex. Somali girls who have not undergone infibulation report fears of being seen as ‘undesirable’ as a result and so are keen to marry young to prove their appeal, value and respectability. This is especially the case in rural areas. Ironically, sustained campaigns which have successfully reduced FGC have inadvertently created a fear of ‘illegal’ (ie premarital) pregnancy which has pushed girls in to early marriage.

4.2 World Vision recommends that the UK address harmful practices such as FGM/C through an holistic approach to insure that the decrease in prevalence of the practice of infibulations does not contribute to a rise in early marriage.

5. Summary of World Vision Recommendations

5.1 Only by focusing on rebuilding the lives of children and giving them opportunities and hope for the future can cycles of conflict be effectively broken. Only by protecting children can the impact of violence in conflict be tackled. The Secretary of State for International Development has noted the increase in instances of sexual and physical violence against women and girls in crises. World Vision recommends that there be an increased proportion of donor funding to protection and child protection in emergencies.

5.2 We ask the UK to produce a strategy to reduce sexual violence in conflict and to leverage their international influence to ensure that all G8 countries do the same. Early and forced marriage must be a priority issue in the Government’s Human Rights Agenda if global development goals are to be met sustainably.

5.3 Specific early marriage prevention mechanisms must be mainstreamed into the UK’s emergency and humanitarian responses in recognition of the prevalence of early marriage as a form of violence against women and girls that intensifies during crises. Alternative means of protection for girls and women at risk of violence and abuse are essential to tackling the growing prevalence of early and forced marriage.

5.4 School environments that are safe from the threat of violence can be both protective and preventative of violence against women and girls. World Vision recommends a greater focus on equal access to quality education through the adaptation of DFIDs current indicators, where the current focus on enrolment rate of girls in schools does not measure the access of girl students to resources, support and safety required to sustain their enrolment.

5.5 World Vision urges the UK Government to address harmful practices such as FGM/C through an holistic approach to ensure that the decrease in prevalence of infibulation does not contribute to a rise in early marriage. World Vision commends DFID on its focus to tackle early pregnancy and urges DFID to ensure this is done alongside programmes that tackle early marriage, in recognition of the link between age at marriage and age at first pregnancy.

January 2013

1 Cecile Aptel and Virginie Ladisch (2011) Through a New Lens: A child-sensitive approach to transitional justice. International Centre for Transitional Justice, p. 5.

2 United Nations (1996) Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Children: Impact of armed conflict on children, Graça Machel, 1996.

3 World Development Report (2011)

4 Justine Greening (2012), ‘Eliminating violence against women and girls’ published speech, 28 November 2012, marking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls, New York USA

5 UN OCHA (2012) MALI CAP 2012: Cluster Funding (12 September 2012)

6 UNFPA (2012) Marrying Too Young: End Child Marriage New York: UNFPA, p.44.

7 UNICEF (2011) State of the World’s Children

8 Feltan Bierman, C. (2006) 'Gender and Natural Disaster: Sexualized violence and the tsunami,' Development 46 (3)

9 Human Rights Watch (2012) No Place For Children: Child Recruitment, Forced Marriage and Attacks on Schools in Somalia New York: HRW, February. World Vision US Before She’s Ready, 2008 Carlson, K., & Mazurana, D., (2008) ‘Forced Marriage Within The Lord’s Resistance Army, Uganda,’ Feinstein International Centre.

10 REDLAMYC Coalition, South America Regional Mapping: Implementation of the Recommendations of the World Report on Violence Against Children 2012 Unpublished paper.

11 See

12 Government of Bangladesh (2009) Climate Change, Gender and Vulnerable Groups in Bangladesh, Climate Change Cell, Department of Environment

13 Jenson, R., & Thornton, R., (2003) ‘Early Female Marriage in the Developing World’ Gender and Development 11:2.

14 See, for example,


16 WHO (2011) Preventing Early Pregnancy and Poor Reproductive Health Outcomes Among Adolescents In Developing Countries, WHO Guidelines, WHO Press Geneva

17 FGC is a pervasive practice across the whole of Somalia with UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children 2012 recording 98% of girls and women aged 15-49 years old have been mutilated or cut.

Prepared 12th June 2013