The Centre for Human Rights hosted a meeting of experts on child marriage in Africa on the 5th and 6th of March 2014. This meeting forms part of the child marriage project which seeks to investigate the prevalence of this phenomenon in African countries, and to give recommendations on best practices that can be employed to curb it. This project supports the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa (SRRWA) especially to follow up on the implementation of the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa by state parties, notably by preparing reports on the situation of women’s rights in Africa and propose recommendations to be adopted by the Commission. The Special Rapporteur is further mandated to carry out comparative studies on the situation of the rights of women in various countries of Africa.
The meeting brought together regional experts from 10 countries which form part of this study, as well as 10 country researchers contracted to compile country reports which will form part of the final regional report. The countries focused on for this study are Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gambia, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, South Africa and Uganda. These countries were chosen for their collective high prevalence rates in early and forced marriages, as well as to offer some examples in terms of best practices that may be employed, regionally in the fight against early and forced marriages. Also in attendance were representatives from the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC), whose input was very helpful in framing some conceptual considerations. It is hoped that ultimately the report will be adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
The women’s rights clinic which forms part of the Master’s program in human rights and democratization in Africa is also involved in the development of General Comments enumerating states obligations with respect to the elimination of harmful traditional practices, including early and forced marriage, under the Women’s Protocol to the African Charter. A draft was shared at the meeting for comments and input and it is envisioned that through the expertise present at this meeting, the Comments shall be finalised and presented to the African Commission for adoption at the session later in the year.
It was a productive and engaging meeting that brought to the fore practical considerations and possible interventions that may be employed in the drive to eradicate harmful traditional practices including child marriage. Some recommendations made include naming the practice child unions and not a forced marriage as the necessary consent to marriage can never be present between a minor and an adult. It was also recommended that the ACERWC be closer involved in the development of this report, alongside the SRRWA as the issue relates primarily to the girl child. A firm commitment was made for future collaboration in the development of the report as well as in the completion of the General Comments. Further updates shall be made available.