Child Marriage: Enough is Enough

By Marcia Banasko, World YWCA Communications Officer. (Original Source first published via Girls Globe)

Child marriage remains one of the most horrific human rights violations that exists today. It is estimated that globally 14 million girls are married off before the age of 18, robbing them of their childhood and leaving them vulnerable to violence, poverty, domestic slavery, sexual assault and HIV/AIDS. Child marriage is a human rights violation that cuts across countries, cultures, religions and ethnicity.

The recent news coverage of the 8-year-old girl who was married off to a 40-year-old man in Yemen, poignantly highlights the desperate need to outlaw child marriage. After their wedding night, the 8-year-old girl – identified as “Rawan” – died from torn genitals and severe bleeding in the northwest city of Hardh. According to media accounts, the fatal injuries were incurred through sexual intercourse. Let me emphasize that it was NOT sexual intercourse. It was rape and it should be clearly understood as so.  Rawan’s tragic story is sadly not unique and millions of girls die every year from injuries incurred from sexual violence.

Image Courtesy of Gerry & Bonni on Flickr (Creative Commons)

Image Courtesy of Gerry & Bonni on Flickr (Creative Commons)

Furthermore, as a result of child marriage, these girls are at far greater risk of experiencing dangerous complications in pregnancy and childbirth. Yemen has a high maternal mortality rate of 370 deaths per 100,000 live births. Reproductive health studies show that young women face greater risks in pregnancy than older women, including life-threatening obstructed labour due to adolescents’ smaller pelvises. The shortage of prenatal and postnatal healthcare services, especially in Yemen’s rural areas, place girls’ and women’s lives at risk. An overwhelming majority of Yemeni women still deliver at home, often without the assistance of a skilled birth attendant capable of handling childbirth emergencies. Girls who marry young often have insufficient information on family planning or worse, none at all. As young wives they find it difficult to assert themselves against older husbands to negotiate family planning methods.

Human Rights Watch reports that 14% of girls in Yemen are married before age 15, with 82% married before age 18. Child marriage is in fact legal in Yemen; however, in light of the recent cases and international media attention, Yemen Parliamentarians are calling for new laws which ban child marriage, set the minimum age for marriage at 18 ,and implement strategic measures to effectively enact the law. Speaking in an interview with CNN, Hooria Mashhour, Yemen’s human rights minister stated,

Many child marriages take place every year in Yemen. It’s time to end this practice.”

In order to fully eliminate child marriage, awareness raising of the negative impacts of this human rights violation must be conducted. There are a magnitude of elements that contribute to child marriage including lack of awareness and understanding. One father who married off his young daughter spoke to Human Rights Watch and declared that if he knew then what he knows now he would never have married off his daughter.

In many cases, the reality of poverty plays a big role in the decision to marry off a daughter. Here are a few examples of how poverty impacts child marriage:

  • Marrying a girl child means one less family member to feed, clothe and educate.
  • The bride’s family receives a hefty dowdy/bride price for a young girl, or in those instances where the bride’s family pays the groom a dowry, they often have to pay less money if the bride is young and uneducated. Sometimes the daughters are actually sold to pay off debts.

Another huge determinant of child marriage is tradition. Child marriage is a traditional practice in many countries and cultures around the world, and breaking tradition can alienate families from the rest of the community. However in the words of Graca Machel, member of The Elders and a major contributor to the founding of Girls Not Brides,

Traditions are made by us – and we can decide to change them. We should be respectful but we must also have the courage to stop harmful practices that impoverish girls, women and their communities.”

One 11 year old Yemeni girl decided to break away from tradition and challenged her own parents when they arranged for her to be married to an older man. Nada al-Ahdal caught the attention of the world when she uploaded a three minute video on YouTube after she escaped from your family and took refuge at her uncle’s house.

The world needs more Nada al-Ahdal’s but can we really leave eight, nine, ten, and eleven-year-olds to defend themselves? Nada is one of the rare and lucky girls’ who successfully avoided child marriage but there are millions who are not so lucky. Hence, we need to make a change and advocate for child marriage to be fully outlawed and recognised as a human rights violation. Thousands of NGOs, human rights defenders, women and girls have been advocating to end child marriage for years and, although change will not come over night, we must keep on and remember the Rawan’s of the world.

Take Action:

Girls Not Brides

Every Woman Every Child

Other Useful Websites:

Human Rights Watch

UNFPA

Mon expĂ©rience au Conseil des Droits de l’Homme Ă  l’ONU – 24Ăšme session

De Maëlle Rabilloud, YWCA Mondiale du bénévolat.

Maelle Rabilloud

Maelle Rabilloud

BĂ©nĂ©vole Ă  la YWCA Mondiale depuis le 1er juillet 2013, je n’envisageais pas de rester Ă  GenĂšve en septembre. Mais aprĂšs avoir passĂ© deux mois fantastiques ici, lorsque l’on m’a parlĂ© de la possibilitĂ© d’assister Ă  la 24Ăšme session du Conseil des Droits de l’Homme, je n’ai pas hĂ©sitĂ© une seconde pour donner ma rĂ©ponse : un grand OUI ! J’avais dĂ©jĂ  eu l’opportunitĂ© d’assister en juillet Ă  la 55Ăšme session du ComitĂ© pour l’Ă©limination de la discrimination Ă  l’Ă©gard des femmes, qui s’occupe  de suivre la mise en Ɠuvre de la Convention sur l’élimination de toutes les formes de discrimination Ă  l’égard des femmes (CEDAW – 1979) et j’avais dĂ©jĂ  Ă©tĂ© impressionnĂ©e par le niveau des dĂ©bats et les rencontres que j’avais faites. Cela m’a ouvert les yeux sur tellement de sujets dont j’ignorais la profondeur, comme par exemple l’ampleur de la violence et de la torture faites aux femmes en RĂ©publique DĂ©mocratique du Congo. J’ai aussi Ă©tĂ© profondĂ©ment choquĂ©e par diffĂ©rents rĂ©cits.

Suite Ă  cette expĂ©rience, mes collĂšgues m’ont proposĂ© de participer au Conseil des Droits de l’Homme. Donc me voilĂ  prĂȘte, le 9 septembre, pour assister Ă  cette 24Ăšme session Ă  l’ONU, dans la fameuse salle XX. La premiĂšre chose que l’on remarque est le gigantesque plafond sculptĂ© et colorĂ© qui surplombe la salle, Ɠuvre d’art de l’espagnol BarcelĂł. Il est absolument impressionnant dĂšs la premiĂšre minute oĂč l’on rentre dans la piĂšce. Cela permet aussi de repĂ©rer les « habituĂ©s » du Conseil des Droits de l’Homme, et les « nouveaux » puisque, Ă©videmment, les nouveaux ont tous la tĂȘte en l’air alors que les habituĂ©s n’y prĂȘtent plus attention.

Main room

(Copyright UN Geneva Information Service)

Le premier jour, pour l’ouverture, il y avait Ă©normĂ©ment de monde, il Ă©tait difficile de se trouver une petite place ! Ensuite, cela s’est calmĂ©, on a pu avoir accĂšs aux places assises et Ă  la traduction. Des discours trĂšs prenants se sont enchainĂ©s sur les situations des droits de l’homme les plus critiques Ă  l’heure actuelle (le cas de la Syrie Ă©tait trĂšs souvent citĂ©, mais aussi sur l’Égypte, le BahreĂŻn, IsraĂ«l/Palestine
). L’aprĂšs-midi du jour d’ouverture, le Conseil des Droits de l’Homme recevait la premiĂšre ministre thaĂŻlandaise, Mme Yingluck Shinawatra cela montre la renommĂ©e et l’importance de ce Conseil des Droits de l’Homme.

Tout Ă©tait nouveau pour moi, je regardais partout, j’ai observĂ© la façon dont les diplomates se comportent, comment ils communiquent entre eux ou nĂ©gocient informellement, ou encore comment certains viennent juste au moment de lire leur texte et repartent aussitĂŽt. Et j’ai trouvĂ© ça assez frustrant que chaque État n’ait le droit qu’à 3 minutes de parole, ils ont Ă  peine le temps de s’exprimer en profondeur sur un sujet. Les diffĂ©rentes sessions se dĂ©roulent quasiment toutes de la mĂȘme façon.  Elles commencent par un exposĂ© de la situation en question ou l’explication d’un rapport qui intĂ©resse les droits de l’homme par un expert, et sont suivies d’un « dĂ©bat » que je qualifie plutĂŽt de « commentaires » de chaque État et parfois de certaines ONG. Les États n’ayant la parole que pour 3 minutes, peu de choses sont vraiment dites, et tous veulent parler donc il est difficile d’avoir vraiment un dialogue interactif et un dĂ©bat. Il faudrait rĂ©flĂ©chir Ă  une solution pour rendre ce dialogue plus « vivant » mais ayant un temps limitĂ© et un trĂšs grand nombre d’États, cela me semble compliquĂ©.

En plus du Conseil des Droits de l’Homme « officiel » dans la salle XX, il y avait tous les jours des rĂ©unions informelles ainsi que des « side events » organisĂ©s par certaines missions permanentes auprĂšs de l’ONU ou diverses ONG. Je dois reconnaĂźtre que ce sont ces rĂ©unions qui m’ont le plus intĂ©ressĂ©es lors du Conseil des Droits de l’Homme. Les « side events » duraient en gĂ©nĂ©ral 2h et abordaient un sujet prĂ©cis, prĂ©sentĂ© par des experts en la matiĂšre ce qui Ă©tait particuliĂšrement intĂ©ressant. Habituellement 4 ou 5 panelistes expliquaient leur point de vue, leur propre expĂ©rience dans leur pays, et ensuite la prĂ©sentation Ă©tait suivie de questions/rĂ©ponses avec les personnes qui assistaient Ă  l’évĂ©nement (des membres de missions permanentes d’un État, des membres d’ONG
). Lors de ces side events, on avait vraiment la possibilitĂ© de prĂ©senter son point de vue, de rĂ©agir Ă  certaines prĂ©sentations, et certains Ă©changes et sujets Ă©taient trĂšs captivants. À titre d’exemple, je peux citer certains de ces side events que j’ai particuliĂšrement apprĂ©ciĂ©s : “Human Rights and armed conflict” ; “The International Criminal Court 15 years after the Rome Statute: Prospects for the future” ; “Decriminalizing abortion”; “ State practices and challenges in human rights education for women”; “Women defenders in conflict zones”


De plus, j’ai eu la chance d’assister aux nĂ©gociations de certaines rĂ©solutions. La rĂ©solution que la YWCA Mondiale a particuliĂšrement suivie concerne « Child, Early and Forced Marriage ». J’ai beaucoup appris lors de ce processus. C’Ă©tait une opportunitĂ© gĂ©niale pour moi de pouvoir ĂȘtre plongĂ©e au cƓur mĂȘme des nĂ©gociations, de suivre la crĂ©ation du droit dĂšs le dĂ©but. Il faut y voir pour y croire, je ne pensais pas que l’on pouvait rĂ©ellement dĂ©battre pendant des heures sur l’utilisation de tel ou tel mot employĂ©, je comprends maintenant toute l’importance du moindre mot, suivant la dĂ©finition propre qu’en ont les États. C’est un processus vraiment particulier et je suis heureuse d’avoir pu en observer le fonctionnement, de voir quel rĂŽle une ONG peut jouer, comment les États s’influencent entre eux, la façon dont ils essaient de nĂ©gocier encore aprĂšs, dans les couloirs
 Et je suis encore plus ravie de savoir que la rĂ©solution a Ă©tĂ© adoptĂ©e Ă  l’unanimitĂ©, prenant en compte une de nos remarques (l’ajout de la notion d’inĂ©galitĂ© homme/femme comme l’une des causes principales des mariages forcĂ©s pour les jeunes filles).

En conclusion, je remarque que j’ai Ă©tĂ© effectivement bien plus impressionnĂ©e par le Conseil des Droits de l’Homme que par mes prĂ©cĂ©dentes expĂ©riences. Je ne regrette vraiment pas ma dĂ©cision, ça a Ă©tĂ© une opportunitĂ© formidable. Je dois ajouter que j’ai eu la chance de ne pas ĂȘtre seule et d’avoir beaucoup appris grĂące Ă  une fervente dĂ©fenseuse des Droits de l’Homme, Marie-Claude Julsaint. Elle a Ă©tĂ© une excellente professeure ayant un vrai don pour expliquer les choses simplement. Elle est vraiment passionnĂ©e par ce qu’elle fait, ce qui donne encore plus envie de s’y intĂ©resser ! Enfin, cela m’a permis de mettre un sens « pratique » Ă  tous mes cours thĂ©oriques, de mieux comprendre le fonctionnement du droit international, de dĂ©couvrir beaucoup de choses, et surtout, cela m’a confirmĂ© mon envie de travailler dans le milieu des droits de l’homme.

Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women

By Laurie Gayle, Board member of the YWCA of Great Britain shares your experience of the 55th CEDAW (the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women).

Laurie

Laurie Gayle

To paraphrase a lady who’s been getting quite a lot of press in Britain this Summer[1], it is a truth universally acknowledged that Government will always fight its corner
even if the room they find themselves in is round.

Such was the case in July, when I attended the 55th CEDAW (the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women) session and the UK examination at the United Nations in Geneva on behalf of YWCA Great Britain. To the casual observer, only a troglodyte of a country would not comply with the treaty which many have labeled the International Bill of Rights for women. Of course, the devil is always in the details and the cause of concern for the United Kingdom, whilst less overt than that of the country which had been examined the previous week (Democratic Republic of Congo), is marked by subtlety and intersection.

The examination came after a year of immense struggle. Recent policy changes, namely the introduction of the Equality Act, austerity measures and the Welfare Reform Act have had a regressive effect on the rights of girls and women in the UK.

Even more unsettling are members of the current government, led by Theresa May, Minister for Women and Equalities, stating that they are currently looking at options to repeal the Human Rights Act and also leave the European Convention on Human Rights. Seeing that CEDAW is the Human Rights treaty for women, the above directly contradicts the Government’s repeated statements during CEDAW55 that they take the treaty ‘very seriously’.

The Government was asked over 100 questions and participated in the dialogue with the United Nations for the better part of 6 hours. By UN standards, the examination was a damning one and the formal recommendations proposed by the UN and published at the end of July solidified this.

No bones about it, the UK CEDAW report card isn’t great for a country which has always considered itself ahead of the proverbial curve where women’s rights are concerned. The Committee did not prevaricate where recommendations were urgently needed. Issues borne out of the Universal Credit system (one of the major elements of recent Welfare Reform Act), were exposed as not having undergone a gendered assessment and as such, the Committee urged the Government to adopt measures to prevent manipulation of the system by abusive male partners. Further recommendations related to economic policy focused on ensuring that government spending reviews continuously and wholly focus on balancing the impact of the austerity measures on women’s rights.

And it wasn’t just benefits that felt the brunt of the war on welfare. Access to legal aid was cut as well and here, the UN strongly rebuked the Government and implied that reforms must be looked at again to assess the impact on how women are protected.

Further to this, the Committee requires the UK to now unequivocally provide access to justice and healthcare to all women, regardless of their immigration status or nationality whilst they’re in the United Kingdom. Part and parcel of this, the UN also want to see the establishment of a framework to nationally address trafficking and urges the ratification of the Istanbul Convention to criminalise forced marriage – both of which are rife in the UK.

But the recommendations that were most localised to the UK context revolved around the more subtle nature of patriarchy and sexism at work in the country. The Committee now calls for measures to work with media outlets to eliminate stereotyping and objectification of women in the media, with express emphasis on the advertising industry. On top of this, they’re calling for implementation of a regulator to intervene in matters such as this and of discriminatory, sexist reporting. This is a first.

LAURIE2

UN UK reporting

In all, the UN’s full recommendation list is 11 pages, and interestingly is largely based on the direct input from the NGOs involved in the process.[i]  Proving again that NGO participation is crucial for a democratic process like CEDAW to be more than just two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.

For the process to work further, those who want to hold the Government’s feet to the fire must to do the following (as individuals or as part of an organisation):

  • Contact their MPs and ask what they are doing to address the CEDAW recommendations in your constituency
  • Use CEDAW ‘language’ in any lobbying or advocacy materials
  • Raise general awareness about CEDAW with your networks and encourage them to share with theirs
  • Embolden others to get involved in shadow reporting  for the next examination

The UN now requires the UK Government to report on their progress within a year’s time as well as the year following. By then – July 2015 – an election will have taken place in Britain and we’ll know if the Government really takes its obligations under International Law seriously or if they just know how to take a punch.