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I am very pleased to participate in such an important event, promoted by Canada and co-organized by Italy, together with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and with the sponsorship of Zambia and Yemen.

According to UNICEF, a third of all teenagers worldwide is forced to enter into marriage against their will; more than 38,000 girls are forced to marry every day; in developing countries 1 out of 9 girls is married by the age of 15, some will be as young as 8 years old. If current levels of child marriages persist, an estimated 220 million more girls will have been married still being children by 2030.

In terms of health, pregnancy and child-birth related medical complications are the leading cause of death in young women aged 15–19. It is important to note that if child marriage is not properly addressed, the UN Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5 – calling for a three-fourths reduction in maternal mortality and a two-thirds reduction in child deaths by 2015 – will not be met.

Studies have shown that child marriage often leads also to gender-based violence, including domestic, physical and sexual violence, which is why it deserves to be addressed as an overriding and “stand alone” issue in the field of human rights protection. Our vision is perfectly in line with the Third Millennium Development Goal, which requires the elimination of gender disparity in primary and secondary education preferably by 2005, and at all levels by 2015.

Early and forced marriage represents a serious form of child abuse and is a violation of a basic human right: that of the freedom of choice concerning one’s spouse. Imposed marriage deprives young girls of this right, affecting their entire life and causing severe and irreparable damage to their dignity. Moreover, early and forced marriage is closely related to the breaching of other human rights and fundamental freedoms, such as the right to education, health, freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief.

The international community should raise its voice and act boldly in order to highlight the importance and seriousness of this particular form of human rights’ violation. Last year, thanks to the work and engagement of the cross-regional group of likeminded countries – joined by Italy since its establishment – new procedural resolutions specifically focused on child marriage were adopted by consensus at the Human Rights Council (HRC 24/23) and at the General Assembly (68/148). A successful panel discussion was held during the twenty sixth Session of the Human Rights Council last June, and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights presented a very exhaustive report on “Preventing and Eliminating Child, Early and Forced Marriage”. Here in New York a panel discussion convened by the President of the General Assembly was held at the beginning of this month.

As a result of last year’s UNGA Resolution, a substantial resolution will be negotiated during the current Session. We are working hard to obtain a wide number of co-sponsorships, and the consensual adoption of a resolution that – I am convinced – will represent a cornerstone in our campaign. Let me assure you that Italy intends to fully contribute to this process, as it has done in the past and  is continuing to do in other related initiatives concerning the defense of girls’ rights, such as the fight against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

As far as FGM is concerned, initiatives undertaken with the direct engagement and ownership of the countries involved have greatly contributed to change the perception of this practice in local public opinion. We believe that such an approach represents a best practice also for early and forced marriages.

In particular, Italy is convinced that programs on education and training can be an effective tool to progressively eradicate this practice, in line with the first United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training – promoted by Italy within a trans-regional coalition and adopted by the General Assembly on December 2011 – which affirms, inter alia, that education and training are essential for the promotion of universal respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

In the past five years the Italian Ministry for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has launched specific programs for girls education, as part of the wider strategy against all “harmful traditional practices” like FGM and Early Marriage. One of the best practices in this field is the Project for Girls Education (PAEF) implemented in Senegal four years ago, which aims to promote gender equality in primary and secondary education. The PAEF is recognized by the Government of Senegal as a pilot project that led to the creation of important synergies between institutions and civil society by strengthening the capacity of women and women’s organizations.

Within this context, let me conclude by expressing my deep appreciation for UNFPA’s precious work aimed at protecting the human rights of girls. Our cooperation so far has been outstanding. This is the reason why I strongly recommended to support UNFPA efforts through a financial contribution, following what we have already been doing for several years in the field of FGM.

Today, I am most pleased to announce that, once again, Italy has decided to stand at UNFPA’s side in the impelling and challenging endeavor of ending forced marriages worldwide.