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Remarks by Dr. Akinwumi A. Adesina, President of the African Development Bank at the First Ladies Meeting on Combatting Child Marriage and Promoting Education of Girls in West Africa, Niamey, Niger, 7th July 2019


Your Excellences, Heads of State and Governments of the ECOWAS

Your Excellences, The First Ladies

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and gentlemen


I wish to express my heartfelt gratitude to Dr. Lala Malika MAHAMADOU ISSOUFOU, First Lady of Niger, for inviting me to participate in this event. It is truly an honor. I am privileged to join this distinguished gathering.

Allow me to commend Madam MAHAMADOU ISSOUFOU for this initiative, and all the other First Ladies for their commitment in the fight against child marriage and their efforts to promote girls’ education and retention in our education systems. Child marriage and failure to access and complete schooling are among the major obstacles to the achievement of girls’ full potential and inclusive growth in our societies.

The international community recognizes that child marriage is a violation of a child’s right to reach her full potential and has through the SDG5 adopted a target to eliminate this practice by 2030. We have barely 11 years to attain that objective. We are running out of time. Let’s work together with a renewed sense of urgency to meet this deadline.

Combatting child marriage and promoting girls’ education and retention in schools - are some of the great moral crusades of our time. Your leadership role as Champions for this cause will undoubtedly inspire other women and conscientious men to carry on this fight.

The African Development Bank recognizes that child marriage remains an alarming phenomenon in Africa. Hence, the urgent need for change! It remains a taint that we have tolerated for too long. A few figures illustrate this critical situation:

  • Across Africa, 125 million girls and young women today were married before their 18th birthday, and more than 1 in 3 young women in Africa were married during childhood, and 1 in 10 before their 15th birthday.
  • Despite the best efforts and advocacy of many, and I commend your personal involvement as First Ladies in the fight against child marriages, progress in reducing this scourge in Africa is insufficient. At the current rate, it would take at least 100 years to eliminate the practice.

There is an urgent need for action to boost girls’ education and retention

Early marriage is a plague jeopardizing the future of girls, as women are fully capable of contributing to the development of their communities and countries. In fact, we need them. Because no country and no region will move forward if it is sidelining half of its population.

There are numerous and complex issues to tackle – ranging from poverty and poor nutrition to the distance required to travel to school to simple lack of washrooms for many girls.

Call for effective strategies to address the situation

Our challenges are complex – and they require a holistic approach in response. Keeping girls in school is one of the best ways to end child marriage. Because an educated girl is an empowered girl.

We know what must be done! We have the tools and the program delivery models. What we need, however, is strong political will.

Investing in the education of girls brings high returns in terms of breaking the cycle of poverty and fostering inclusive economic growth

So let’s find that political will. Let’s us mobilize our resources – and let’s commit right here, right now to implement a new paradigm for education built around what is actually right for girls.

The African Development Bank is committed to partner with you in enabling girls and women deliver their full potential.

Through our Gender Strategy, the Bank has developed an adequate policy and strategic framework and appropriate tools to guide our interventions and ensure those women’s participation and needs are fully integrated into all Bank programs.

You invest in a man, it’s one thing – but invest in a woman, and you see that investment manifold throughout her community.

This is a critical priority for us – not just an Africa issue, but also a global issue. So all of us must come together - public non-governmental institutions, religions leaders, communities, families, and schools – for a sustained multi-stakeholder approach to combat early marriage and promote girls’ education.

Let me take this opportunity to salute the First lady of Ghana who was recently inducted as one of the Champions of the African Leaders for Nutrition. I invite all the first ladies to support their husbands in decision-making through advocacy in favor of nutrition. I would urge the husbands to support the wives as well, and to draw upon their abundant wisdom!

It is my conviction that “No bird can fly with one wing. Africa will develop faster when it achieves equality for women.” I do look forward to working with you, our First Ladies, to help lift and empower our young girls to become tomorrow’s strong women.


Thank you.

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