20 June, 2017
At the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on 16th June 2017, the Commonwealth Forum of National Human Rights Institutions (CFNHRI) participated in a side event on ending child, early, and forced marriage hosted by the Commonwealth Secretariat and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Child marriage is a harmful traditional practice that violates the rights of women and girls. Around 375 million women alive today were married or partnered before their 18th birthday. In the Commonwealth, that amounts to 52 per cent of women aged more than 18 years of age. Approximately 8.8 million Commonwealth women are married as children every year. That adds up to 24,000 girls every day or 17 girls every minute.
The CFNHRI adopted the Kigali Declaration in 2015. This represents a united stand on child marriage and sets out a framework of 17 actions that NHRIs can take forward to end the practice. Twenty human rights commissions are currently signatories and have implemented concrete actions to end child marriage.
Mr Justin Dzonzi, Chairperson of the Malawi NHRI, highlighted a landmark Constitutional amendment that bans child marriage in the country. He said ‘[t[he constitutional amendment was our greatest achievement, but achieving tangible social change by simply changing the law is not a realistic means of ending an entrenched social practice like child marriage. Rooting out child marriage is a project, not an event. Everyone needs to participate. To be effective we must reach the hardest to reach first.’
Professor Les Allamby, Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, and Chair of the CFNHRI, highlighted research on child marriage in vulnerable traveller communities in Northern Ireland that is linked to a proposal to amend the age of marriage legislation in the UK Parliament. He said ‘[t]he battle has still to be won but child marriage is not going unchallenged around the world. There is a need for political and civic leadership, as well as grassroots actions. Act locally and think globally. The Commonwealth Kigali Declaration is an example of this working in practice’. The full presentation is available here.