Child Marriage Project
Few human tragedies are as heart-breaking as those that undermine, damage and destroy the lives of children. For girls in particular, one of the most widespread of such tragedies is child marriage. Almost 60 per cent of all child marriages globally occur within the Commonwealth, despite it holding only 32 per cent of the global population. That is stark, and it must change.
Clearly this is a Commonwealth problem, and clearly it is – amongst many others – a legal problem: one that we, as members of the legal profession, must collectively confront and help address.
Across the Commonwealth, legislation remains insufficient to acknowledge and address child marriage. The legal frameworks of many countries actively enable marriages involving children through an absence of constitutional minimum ages for marriage, legislative ages of marriage that are or in certain circumstances can be below 18 years of age, and discriminatory ages of marriage as between males and females. Few countries have criminal or other sanctions against those conducting or enabling a marriage involving a child. Much of the Commonwealth continues to struggle with enforcing legal systems that mandate birth and marriage registration, which would enable better monitoring of ages of marriage. Few court cases are brought challenging the institutional and societal systems and structures that enable child marriage.
Whilst laws can never promise to change things overnight, or on their own, they represent the values of a society and are a symbol of how resolute societies are to protect their most vulnerable. They signal to society as a whole what is and is not acceptable. Without legal protection, there is no protection. Without legal change, there is no requirement on societies to change. We must do more, and by using the vehicle of the law we can do more.
The Commonwealth Lawyers Association is pleased to provide this pan-Commonwealth overview of the role of the law in eliminating child marriage. We hope that it will educate and inspire the legal profession around the Commonwealth to learn from the change that is happening in some of our countries in all Commonwealth regions, and to agitate for and help deliver more legal change and better law enforcement where it is still needed.
For a child to lose her childhood, a student to lose her education, a healthy young girl to lose her life – simply because she is a girl – is a Commonwealth tragedy that cannot continue.
It is trite to say that children are the future. They are indeed, but they are more than that. They are individuals in the present, with hopes and dreams and innocence, with boundless promise and potential, and – importantly – with human rights. It is those who have come before, including those who have the privilege of being in positions or professions of power and influence, who must ensure those rights are upheld, and that potential is realised, for all children, everywhere.
2017 – 2019 President of the Commonwealth Lawyers Association