By Nellie Peyton
African political leaders, activists, and local chiefs joined forces on Monday to commit to ending child marriage in West and Central Africa, the region with the highest child marriage rate in the world.
More than a third of girls in the region are married under the age of 18, with the rate over 50 percent in six countries and up to 76 percent in Niger.
Driven by factors including poverty, insecurity and religious tradition, marrying off girls once they reach puberty or even before is a deeply engrained social custom in much of West and Central Africa.
The practice hampers global efforts to reduce poverty and population growth and has negative impacts on women’s and children’s health, educational achievements, and earnings, the World Bank has said.
The conference in Senegal’s capital Dakar, which included government, civil society, and religious representatives from 27 countries, was the first gathering of its kind to address child marriage in the region.
“What we need to end child marriage is a movement,” Francoise Moudouthe of advocacy group Girls Not Brides told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “We hope this will be solidified in the region with this meeting.”
World leaders have pledged to end child marriage by 2030 under the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, but at current rates it will take over 100 years to end it in West and Central Africa, the U.N. children’s agency (UNICEF) said on Monday.
Although the rate of child marriage has declined from 50 to 39 percent across the region since 1990, population growth means that the number of child brides is still increasing, said Andrew Brooks, UNICEF’s regional head of child protection.
“I think the fact that they came is a sign that they’re ready to do something,” said Brooks of the local and national leaders present.
Other activists said they hoped the meeting would result in concrete national action plans and would pressure countries to enact and enforce laws against child marriage.
“We have heard your heartfelt cry,” said Senegal’s prime minister, Mohammed Dionne, to campaigners, who chanted “No to child marriage” as he took the stage.
“The problem is how to move from vision to action,” said Dionne. “Beyond the legal framework, what we need today is collective engagement in the search for solutions.”
Published on Reuters on October 23, 2017
The Supreme Court on Wednesday criminalised sex between a man and his underage wife provided the woman files a complaint within a year.
The court said the exception in the rape law that allowed a man to have sex with his minor wife aged between 15 and 18 was arbitrary and violated the Constitution. It also said the Exception 2 in Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code was contrary to the philosophy of other statutes and violated the bodily integrity of a girl child.
Discrepancy in laws
The rape law and the protection of children from sexual offences act (Pocso) disagreed on the age of consent.
Section 375 of the IPC says sex with a girl who is below 18 is rape but Exception 2 allowed a man to have sex with his underage wife even without her consent.
Under Pocso, the age of consent is 18 years.
The exception was also contrary to the child marriage act that puts 18 as the age of marriage for girls and 21 for boys.
Why government defended the exception
The government had defended the IPC exception in the Supreme Court, saying the provision was meant to protect the institution of marriage.
India has 23 million child brides and criminalising the “consummation of the marriages” as rape would not be appropriate, the Centre had said during a hearing in August, opposing a petition that wanted 18 to be the age of consent for all girls.
It also said child marriages were a reality in India where economic and educational development was uneven. “The institution of marriage must be protected. Otherwise, the children from such marriages will suffer,” the Centre said.
What activists say
An NGO Independent Thought, which contested the exception, told the court in August that the inconsistency had split girls below the age of 18 into two categories.
“One, those who are not married and for them, the age of sexual consent is 18. Then there are those who are married and a husband can have sexual intercourse with his wife if she is above the age of 15, irrespective of her consent,” it said during a hearing.
The petition called for uniformity in defining the age of consent. The NGO’s counsel Gaurav Agrawal said Section 375 (2) IPC was arbitrary because it discriminated against a girl child who is married off before 18. The rape law made even consensual sex between a man and a minor girl an offence. “Then why should a girl of the same age suffer,” he had said.
Accepting the argument, the court on Wednesday struck down Section 375 (2) of IPC.
Published on The Hindustan Times on October 11, 2017