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Child, early and forced marriages creates enormous obstacles for basic human rights

Last updated: 26.06.2014 // A high-level panel debate was held by the UN Human Rights Council on the identification of preventing and elimination child, early and forced marriage.

The high level panellists was chaired by vice-president Mr. Alberto Pedro D Alotto and moderated by Ms. Yvette Stevens, Ambassador of Sierra-Leone. The High Level Panellist’s were Ms. Violetta Neubauer, Chair of the CEDAW Working group on Harmful Practices; Ms. Soyata Maiga, Special rapporteur on the rights of women at the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights; Ms. Kate Gilmore, UNFPA, Deputy Executive Director (Programme); Ms. Pooja Badarinath, Programme Coordinator, Advocacy and Research (CREA) and Mr. Ayman Sadek, Upper Egypt Program Area Manager, Plan International.

Flavia Pansieri, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, opening the discussion, said that the existing abusive practices could not be characterized as “marriages”.  If present trends continued, some 142 million girls would be married off before their 18th birthday by 2020, 39,000 every day. The collective experience demonstrated that the problem was not impossible, and solutions existed to address the root causes. Child marriage was rooted in unequal gender status and power relations that could result in the perpetual suppression of girls and women. Discriminatory cultural gender practices, poverty and insecurity were among the key contributing factors.

Both panellists and States discussed the poor health outcomes, especially because of early and frequent pregnancies, and forced continuation of pregnancy that are all common in child marriages. They are closely linked with high maternal and infant morbidity and mortality rates and can have adverse effect on the girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights. Child marriage and early childbearing are also recognised as significant obstacles to ensuring educational, employment and other economic opportunities of girls and young women.

In the debate States unanimously condemned child, early and forced marriages (CEFM). There was general agreement among States and the panellists that more needs to be done to end the harmful practice. Promising practices include efforts to involve men and boys, empowerment of women and girls, religious and community leaders, parents and communities at large to address the cultural acceptance of the practice. The importance of education amongst women, girls, boys and men, was also emphasized.

Several States highlighted legal literacy and the panel underlined the need of including the issue in the Post-2015 agenda. Norway stated in the joint statement on behalf of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Sweden and Norway, that “The Nordic countries will work to ensure that prevention and elimination of child, early and forced marriage and universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights are included in the of the post- 2015 framework. ”

OHCHRs report on the issue notes lack of enforcement, oversight, and monitoring of legislation setting the legal age of marriage at 18 for both boys and girls as particularly problematic. Norway also and stated that ”legislation is an important tool in combatting child, early and forced marriage, but prohibition will not in itself guarantee the termination of this harmful practice. Comprehensive and coordinated approaches are needed to address widespread cultural and social acceptance. The underlying causes must be addressed, including gender inequality, poverty, social pressure, exclusion from educational and job opportunities and negative attitudes and stereotypes about adolescent girls. ”

Other challenges highlighted in their report included insufficient measures to address the root causes of CEFM, namely: gender inequality, including in access to education and productive resources; lack of adequate support services for those at risk; lack of effective remedies for victims; and persistent traditions in favour of CEFM.

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