By Emma Batha
Norway approved a law banning all child marriage on Tuesday, with campaigners saying it would set an example to others ahead of a global 2030 deadline for eradicating the practice.
The Nordic country has a minimum age of 18, but allows 16- and 17-year-olds to marry with parental consent and permission from the county governor. A government spokeswoman said very few under 18s had sought to wed in recent years.
“We believe ... this law will send a clear message, nationally as well as internationally, that we do not accept children getting married in Norway,” Minister of Children and Equality Linda Hofstad Helleland said in emailed comments.
“A marriage should always be based on full, free and informed consent,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Globally, an estimated 12 million girls are married every year before their 18th birthday - nearly one girl every two seconds, according to global campaign group Girls Not Brides.
The United Nations has said all countries should end child marriage by 2030 under global development goals.
The Norwegian branch of aid agency Plan International, which has led calls to reform the law, said Tuesday’s unanimous vote in parliament for a total ban was an important milestone.
“A major reason why the law needs to change is the global perspective,” said spokeswoman Siv Meisingseth.
“How can we encourage other countries in the developing world to ban child marriage if we don’t have our own house in order?”
Meisingseth said the reform - which comes a year after Denmark passed a similar ban - would give Norway one of the strictest laws on child marriage in Europe.
“We really want other countries in Europe to copy this law. This should be the standard,” she said.
Child marriage forces girls to drop out of school, limits their opportunities and traps them in poverty, experts say. It also raises the risk of domestic abuse, rape and serious childbirth complications.
Parliament will hold another reading of the bill next week, but sources said this was a formality and the law would likely come into force shortly.
The law will also ban Norwegians from marrying abroad if either party is under 18. Meisingseth said there had been cases where girls had been taken overseas to be married off to men in their parents’ country of origin.
The maximum penalty for child marriage will be three years’ imprisonment.
Published on Reuters on May 22, 2018
More than 2 million people across Mozambique, especially in the southern and central regions, have been affected by severe drought since 2015. The prolonged crisis has exhausted household food stock, disrupted lives and livelihood. For Mozambican women and girls, who are primarily responsible for managing food and water for their families, the drought has also meant increased work burden and earlier marriages, leading to lost childhood, education and opportunities.
“My wish is to be able to influence other girls so that they don’t drop out of school,” shared Guelsa Chivodze, who was married off at 17 years of age. For years, she took care of the household and endured physical and financial abuse.
My husband refused to allow me to go to night school because he thought I would meet boyfriends there... After all that I have gone through in my life, I took it upon myself to become an activist in my community and raise awareness of other girls about the need to go to school and defend themselves against child marriage and gender-based violence,” adds Chivodze.
For Chivodze, the chance for a new beginning came after her husband was convicted of criminal offences. Today, at 30 years of age, she has gone back to school. She studies at the Guiljá Secondary School in the Chinhacanine village in Gaza, a southern province of Mozambique, where UN Women has supported efforts that mobilized students, teachers and parents’ associations to end violence against women and girls. She aspires to become a nurse, and help survivors of gender-based violence.
Chivodze’s older brother, Helónio Chivoze, is her hero. He provides financial support for Chivodze and her two boys, and encourages her to complete her education and become self-reliant. “My dream is to have Guelsa become a professional, and stop looking for marriage to sustain her family,” he says. But the drought is making it difficult to meet all the expenses: “I used to farm 2015 cattle before. But since the drought, I am left with only 37 cattle and I lost 12 hectares of crop,” he says.
In a context where early and forced marriages were already prevalent, The prolonged drought and the accompanying economic hardships have led to more parents marrying off their girls early because there would be one less mouth to feed. In Mozambique, 48 per cent of girls are married before age 18 and 14 per cent are married before age 15.
Glória Mabunda’s life was similarly impacted. A survivor of violence from Chinhacainine village, Guijá District, Gaza Province, Mozambique (southern region of Mozambique), she was forced to leave school in grade seven because she was pregnant.
“In my community, men seldom let their women go to school for fear of women’s empowerment and change in the power relations,” said Mabunda, who now empowers girls and young women in her community.
“When they marry a young woman, it is a lifetime of deprivation and abject poverty [for the girl/woman] from the very onset of marriage. Physical and financial violence is the following stage,” she added.
“It is essential that we understand the relationships between the effects of climate change and the persistence of violence against women, including through harmful socio-cultural practices such as child marriage. Integrating these gender issues in our disaster and humanitarian response is about doing our job right,” stressed Ondina da Barca Vieira, UN Women Programme Specialist in Mozambique.
Mabunda and Chivodze are among the lucky few who got a second chance at education and opportunities, after early marriages.
At age 34, Mabunda finally divorced her husband because he wouldn’t allow her to complete her studies. She took over her mother’s poultry farm in 2016, after attending a UN Women-supported training delivered by the Mozambican Institute for Agrarian Research, which taught poultry farming management techniques to rural women. “I want to grow my poultry farming business, be a role model and help other young women and girls in my community empower themselves,” she says.
In 2014, with support from the Government of Belgium, UN Women implemented the project, “Expanding Women’s Role in Agricultural Production and Natural Resource Management,” to combat climate change and improve food security in Mozambique. The project empowered rural women, as well as men, but by providing training and agricultural benefits to women, it challenged the pervasive gender stereotypes that denied women equal opportunities.
As Inês Zitha, a community animal health worker based in Djavanhane, in the district of Guijá, Gaza, explains, women were not expected to work with cattle; it was perceived as a man’s job. In a region where livestock is one of the most valuable assets, it’s an important job.
“They said that women should not get into cattle stables… if a woman entered a stable during her menstrual cycle, it would reduce the livestock’s productivity. After attending the trainings and awareness sessions supported by UN Women, I realized that it was a power relations issue,” says Zitha.
With the revenue from her business, Zitha can now pay for her daughter to attend school, and has started building her own house to replace the one destroyed by a cyclone. She is among 200 rural women from the southern province of Gaza, who directly benefited from the project.
In the course of three years, the project has resulted in more women securing land tenure rights, civil registration and licenses for their businesses. As empowered, economically resilient women, they are setting better examples for girls and women in their communities and showing that early marriage is not the only way out.
Published on UN Women on November 8, 2017
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