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I am very pleased to participate in such an important event, and I thank Canada, Zambia, Peru and Ethiopia, together with UNICEF, UNFPA, for organizing this and NGOs which are well-known for their efforts in promoting Girl’s and Children’s Rights for their sponsorship. Clearly, the role of NGOs is key to bring about the cultural change we need to eradicate Early, Child and Forced Marriage (ECFM).

· Italy, as you may be aware of, has always been very active in the fight against harmful practices against women and girls such as ECFM and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Italy regards these practices as a manifestation of gender discrimination, against women and young girls. Unfortunately ECFMs are still shockingly widespread in the world, and they have a tendency to be exacerbated in situations of conflict and humanitarian crisis.

· ECFMs represent a serious form of child abuse and a violation of basic human rights, such as the freedom of choice concerning one’s spouse and the right of all people to decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, free from coercion, discrimination and violence.

· ECFMs compromise the entire life of young girls, causing a severe and irreparable damage to their dignity. Putting and end to child marriages is also crucial for social and economic development, by delaying first birth, reducing maternal death and making sure girls have a better chance in life.

· The International Community has recently become more aware of the issue and the main UN human rights institutions have adopted different political statements and resolutions.

· The adoption by consensus in December 2014 of the first substantial resolution on the eradication of ECFM (69/156) at the General Assembly was a very positive result, achieved by a cross-regional coalition of States.

· Italy currently chairs, along with Sierra Leone, at the U.N. in Geneva the negotiations on the text for a new Resolution of the Human Rights Council on ECFM. It is our hope that these new Resolutions will help raise awareness on the need to properly address ECFM, also in order to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals 1-6, and their overarching aims, including in the areas of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, poverty reduction, education, maternal and child mortality.

· We are committed to integrate a human rights-based approach across the Post-2015 Development Agenda, including its goal, target and indicators. We deem that the needs and rights of children, and girls, must be a cross-cutting priority of the Post-2015 Development Agenda. In this framework, we need to improve disaggregated data collection and analysis to monitor progress related to the promotion and protection of human rights of adolescent girls.

· ECFMs are deeply entrenched in social, economic and political structures. Changing these types of “social conventions” require a collective and coordinated work together with the Countries that suffer most from ECFMs. This is mainly because some social and cultural norms can perpetuate gender-based violence, as gender bias operates within cultures through “invisible” forms of coercion, which are hidden in the structures of government or ingrained in the perceptions people have of themselves.

· The process of social change must reach as wide a public as possible and – through local and national media and in partnership with strategic allies in government and civil society – they should stimulate and support national dialogue.

· This is the reason why the Italian Government politically and financially supports international campaigns in partnership with UNFPA and UNICEF, such as:

– the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Program on “FGM cutting: Accelerating Change”. The Joint Program convened annual consultations in Africa and served as a forum for peer-review and technical updates as well as for “south-south cooperation”, exchanges of lessons learned, and good practices.

These consultations provided an opportunity to integrate global efforts with regional and country level activities against FGM and other harmful practices; also allowing for a stock-taking of lessons and experiences to be incorporated in the new initiatives against ECFM.

– The UNFPA “Action for Adolescent Girls”. The idea behind the program is to support thousands of vulnerable girls at risk, through interventions that provide opportunities for social participation. The program simultaneously strives to create a more favorable environment for adolescent girls at the community and national levels. In each Country, UNFPA partners with government ministries, civil society and communities.

Engagement with a line Ministry helps build national ownership, and when results are demonstrated, the approach is mainstreamed into national youth and health programs. Finally, the initiative involves local leaders in participatory micro-planning, which serves to “institutionalize” action at local levels.

· Thank you.