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"Radical change" necessary to achieve the goal of finishing …

By Beh Lih Yi

KUALA LUMPUR, June 24 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A "radical change" is needed to achieve the global goal of ending child marriage by 2030, activists said before A big meeting on Monday to stop the practice.

Some 12 million girls a year marry before age 18 with often devastating consequences for their health and education, and ending the practice in 2030 is one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Rates have fallen in recent years, but defender Lakshmi Sundaram said it was necessary "a complete radical change" as new drivers such as climate change and increased conflicts threatened to undermine progress.

"It's a pretty ambitious target," said the executive director of the Girls Not Brides campaign group, which is organizing the three-day meeting in the Malaysian capital.

"What we do need to see is a real step forward for governments and donors … it is their duty to protect their citizens and the girl child," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

In the last decade, some 25 million early marriages have been avoided, says the UN Children's Agency, UNICEF.

The biggest decline occurred in South Asia, where the risk of a girl marrying before she turned 18 has dropped from 50 to 30 percent, according to UNICEF.

Poverty is often the main reason for child marriage, but protracted conflicts, for example in Syria or in extreme conditions in countries such as Bangladesh, Mali and Niger, have put more girls at risk, Sundaram said.

"It brings with it a whole series of new challenges on how best to support girls in these situations," he added.

Early marriage not only makes it more likely that girls will leave school, but it also increases the risks of exploitation, sexual violence, domestic abuse and death during childbirth, rights groups say.

The practice affects more than 650 million women and girls today, according to UNICEF figures. The agency also warned that there will be another 150 million girls affected by the year 2030 if the practice does not stop immediately.

"The key factors of child marriage are not only poverty and lack of access to education, but also gender and" cultural norms, "said Sivananthi Thanenthiran, executive director of the Asia Pacific Resource and Research Center

Improving gender equality would help stop the practice, he added.

Nearly 500 delegates from more than 70 countries attend the meeting, including 17-year-old Hadiqa Bashir, originally from Pakistan.

Bashir She escaped an attempt by her family to marry her when she was 11 years old, and organized a group of girls, Girls United for Human Rights, that campaigns against early marriages.

"It's about changing the perception of people and the way what they think, "he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, saying he hopes to find a new inspiration at the meeting.

(Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi, Editing by Claire Cozens.) Please give Thomso credit n Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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