Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg speaks before receiving the Amnesty International's Ambassador of Conscience award at George Washington University in Washington, DC on September 16, 2019. (AFP/Andrew Caballero-Reynolds)
Greta Thunberg elevating climate change to an issue of global importance is an inspiration in the fight against child marriage, young female activists said on Wednesday as they called for action from world leaders at the United Nations.
Globally, 12 million girls become child brides each year, according to the campaign group Girls Not Brides, exposing them to greater risks of exploitation, sexual violence, domestic abuse and death in childbirth.
Without greater efforts, another 150 million girls will be married before their 18th birthday by 2030, campaigners have warned - the target date to achieve the United Nations' latest set of global goals which includes ending child marriage.
Valeria Guerrero Kessleman, 25, an Ecuadorian activist for the rights of women and girls, said Thunberg was a great example of how the youth can put the eyes of the world on an issue.
"I'm not sure if we will have a Greta for this kind of thing, but we deserve one, because it's a huge problem," Kessleman told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Wednesday on the sidelines of the United Nations' annual global meeting.
The UN regards child marriage - defined internationally as marriage under 18 - as a human rights violation.
Gisela Foz, a Brazilian lawyer who campaigns on women's issues, said Thunberg's emotion in her powerful speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Monday was a good way to raise awareness.
"We need to be bold, we need to be dynamic and we also need to be radical about it," Foz, 24, said. "We cannot tolerate the pushbacks, we cannot tolerate having kids getting married."
Politicians "have to listen to young people," said Zahraa Dihrany, 25, who works on a campaign to raise the minimum age of marriage to 18 in Lebanon. "The future is for youth."
Currently the minimum age for marriage in Lebanon differs between the country's different religious sects, from puberty for Shiite Muslims to 17 for the Sunni and Druze communities, according to Girls Not Brides.
But activists cautioned that it may be too much to ask of one girl to lead change, particularly if they have gone through the trauma of child marriage.
"One girl alone cannot create a change," Mabel van Oranje, the chair of Girls Not Brides, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"You need hundreds, you need thousands of Gretas. When Greta was sitting there on her own people weren't really paying attention."
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