Speech by Princess Mabel van Oranje, Chair, Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage|
Your Royal Highness, dear family,
friends, fellow activists, and members of the board of the Stichting
It is a tremendous honour and
pleasure to be here with you today, and to receive the Geuzenpenning 2018 award
on behalf of Girls Not Brides. Thank
you. It is a wonderful recognition of the importance and the impact of our
Dear Lilian, thank you for your
heartfelt introduction. As I have long been an admirer of your compassion,
integrity and commitment to human rights, I feel privileged to be on the same
stage as you.
Given that child marriage is a
worldwide problem, I normally speak in English about my work. However, let me
use this special occasion to speak in my mother tongue.
[From here in Dutch]
When I worked in the Balkans in
the early 1990s, I learned an important lesson. The brave citizens of Sarajevo
showed each other and the world that resistance and change are possible – even
in the most dire of circumstances. That is also the lesson of the story of the
courageous Geuzen, who stood up for their freedom and whom we remember today.
And that’s the lesson that we are still learning today, from all the determined
activists who work across the globe to end the phenomenon of child
When – almost ten years ago now – I
started looking into the issue of child marriage, I was not only shocked to
discover how enormous the problem was, but also that so little was being done to
tackle it. This had to change.
We have come a long way since then.
Let me share some personal
memories of the past years:
- I clearly remember the situation in 2010. At
that time I worked for The Elders, the organisation founded by Nelson Mandela,
and we had our first serious conversations about creating a world without child
marriage. People told us that this was impossible. The problem was too complex
to tackle. Ending it would never happen; there was no point even trying.
Luckily, the Elders and Friso encouraged me to persist.
I am extremely proud of the progress that we jointly have achieved
since that moment. Progress that is proving the sceptics wrong. We are showing that
the impossible is actually possible. That the complexity of the problem should never
be an excuse for inaction.
- I also remember how we first brought together a
group of interested civil society organisations from all over the world, in
Ethiopia in June 2011, to explore whether collaboration might be helpful. I
remember the old man from northern Nigeria who had been working to end child
marriage in his community for more than a decade – on his own and against the
odds. He burst into tears when, arriving in Ethiopia, he realised that he was
no longer alone. That a global coalition of activists was coming together. That
our partnership, Girls Not Brides, would
allow his organisation and all other members to have more impact. That by working
together, we are stronger to push governments and communities for change. And
that we can be more effective when we learn from each other – about what works
and what doesn’t.
- I will also never forget the personal stories
of the many girls whom I have met over the years. I think of the Ethiopian girl
whose face became so sad when we asked her about her wedding day. She said: ‘My
wedding day was the day that I had to leave school.’ I also think about the
young girl from Zambia who had never heard about sex or contraceptives. The day
that she found out she was pregnant was the day when she was forced into
- I remember how surprised I was when I learned
that child marriage happens across all religions. And that it is not only
happening at a massive scale in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, but also in
Latin America. And even in the US and here in Europe – although in smaller
- I remember the
moment when we realised that change was really starting to happen. We were so
excited when countries with high rates of child marriage started to take
notice and committed to tackling the issue. When Nepal and Zambia were among
the first countries to develop national strategies to end child marriage. That
was then. Now, there are 32 countries which have, or are in the process of
- And we were delighted when the Netherlands was
among the first donor countries to make ending child marriage a priority – acknowledging
the link between child marriage and many Dutch development priorities,
including sexual and reproductive health and rights.
- I will never forget my encounters with many impressive
individuals who work extremely hard every day to improve the lives of girls. This
Geuzenpenning award is a recognition of,
and a tribute to, their efforts.
- So, this
Geuzenpenning is also for Kawusada. And for the traditional leader whom I met in
Zambia who convinced his community that they should no longer marry off their
girls. The Geuzenpenning is also for the young boys in Bihar, India, who
collected thousands of signatures from men in their community against child
marriage. It is for the young girl in Malawi who played a crucial role in
increasing the legal age of marriage to 18. It is for the female Muslim clerics
whom I met last week in Indonesia and who are working to end child marriage in
their communities. This year’s Geuzenpenning celebrates all those individuals
who are proof that we can all make a difference.
- I remember the energy and excitement in the
room when the United Nations General Assembly held its first-ever debate about
ending child marriage. And our joy at the historic moment when child marriage
was included as a target in the new UN Sustainable Development Goals.
- I also recall the moment, fairly recently,
when my colleagues told me that Girls Not
Brides had grown to be a partnership of more than 950 member organisations
in almost 100 countries. I am proud that I am working with a truly global
movement – where small local organisations count as much as the big
international ones. Where everyone, from every community, regardless of age or
background, has a crucial role in realising our objective: a world without
Before I leave you, let me share
two of our many exciting plans for the future.
The first one is to collaborate more
closely with other development sectors such as with those organisations working
to improve education and health care, or to tackle violence against children. We
realise that by partnering with such organisations, we are more likely to
achieve a world without child marriage. And they are more likely to achieve
their objectives. For example, we found out that child brides have a disproportional
risk of acquiring HIV. That is why we are now working with the AIDS sector to
explore how AIDS programmes can also serve child brides.
Similarly, we are already working
together with the Dutch government on the link between child marriage and
sexual and reproductive health. Together, we want to avoid girls ending up in
marriage because of unplanned, early pregnancies. And we hope to do more
together on girls’ education in the future.
Ladies and gentlemen. You know me
as a realist and a pragmatist. Child marriage is a centuries-old practice.
Ending it won’t be easy, and it won’t happen overnight. But we now know what
works to end child marriage, and we are seeing concrete change happen around
the world. And let’s not forget: real change doesn’t happen because of the good
intentions or lofty plans of many, but thanks to the patience and determination
Next to the entry of this
impressive church is the ‘Geuzenmonument’, made by the sculptor Leen Droppert
(who comes from Vlaardingen). The sculpture shows a defiant man who wards off
danger and takes a step forward with a clenched fist. This is a symbol for the Geuzen
who were killed, the ‘Eighteen Dead’ of the poem of Jan Campert. The monument
is also a permanent encouragement for each of us. Don’t be afraid to step
Patience and determination will
ultimately lead us to a world without child marriage. That will be a world
where everybody is better educated, healthier, more prosperous, and more equal.
Where a girl can be a girl, and
not a bride.
Let girls be girls, not brides.