Africa : FIDH calls on states to protect and promote rights of girls

In its declaration at the 60th Ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which took place in Niamey from 8th to 22nd of May 2017, FIDH encouraged the Commission to continue and reinforce its action against discriminations and violences on girls in Africa. FIDH called on African states to put an end to early and forced marriages, to ensure the effectiveness of convictions of people responsible for these, and to strengthen their support and assistance to girls victims of early and forced marriage, sexual violence and girls wishing to have abotion.

60th Ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
Niamey, 8 to 22 May 2017

Protecting and promoting rights of girls to guarantee their participation in “The Africa that we want”

Madam President,
Commissioners

FIDH welcomes the choice of the African Union to make 2017 a year dedicated to the promotion of youth. While 60% of the African population is currently under 25, it is crucial to invest in this essential capital for the development of the continent and to provide all the means of actions needed for the implementation of the goals set out in Agenda 2063, especially development, peace, democracy and human rights. On this occasion, we would like to draw the Commission’s attention to the specific situation of girls and the violences and discriminations they suffer, that limit, or even prevent, their participation in this dynamic. Investing in the youth requires first of all to free girls from the all the barriers that restrict the enjoyment of their fundamental rights and freedoms all over the continent.

Member states of the African Union have adopted and largely ratified a number of regional and international instruments in favor of the protection and promotion of the rights of girls, such as the Maputo Protocol, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, the African Youth Charter or the CEDAW Convention. However, most of the provisions of these conventions remain not respected in practice.

Female genital mutilation, early and forced marriages, sexual violences, prohibition or limited access to abortion, stereotyped conceptions and attitudes, are all barriers to girls’ full enjoyment of their human rights. These violations deny their right to life, to physical and moral integrity, to health, to non-discrimination but also quite often deprive them of their right to education or to work. They also often prevent them from participating actively, on equal terms with boys, to the public and political life of their country.

Madam President,

FIDH particularly wishes to draw the Commission’s attention to early marriages – which should systematically be considered as forced marriages – that poison our continent and affect girls disproportionately1. In this regard, we welcome the initiative taken by the African Union to conduct a campaign to fight against this scourge. Such actions have to be supported and strengthened, as statistics remain alarming. In sub-Saharan Africa, 39% of girls are married before the age of 18. Niger is the state with the highest rate of early marriages in the world: 76% of girls are married before the age of 18 and 28% before the age of 15. Among the world’s first 20 states with the highest rates of early marriages, 17 are African states: we can mention, for example, the Central African Republic and Chad, where 68% of girls are married before 18, or Mali, with a rate of 55%, Burkina Faso, 52%, Guinea or South Sudan2. Even if the prevalence of forced marriages varies across regions, no African state is spared by this phenomenon.

These marriages are fostered by poverty and insecurity, but are also encouraged by sexist stereotypes and harmful traditional practices, such as dowry. In a number of countries, early marriages are authorized by the law. In Gabon3, for example, the legal age for marriage is of 15 for girls while it is of 18 for boys. In some countries, the national law provides for exceptions that justify the lowering of the legal age for marriage4. All over the continent, regardless of the law, girls are married on the name of traditional customs or religion, sometimes as early as 11 or 12. In Tunisia, early marriages are even encouraged by the law since a very retrograde provision of the Criminal Code5,that is still in effect, allows the drop of all charges against a rapist when he marries his underage victim. This article should be abrogated with the adoption of the new integral law on the fight against violence against women, currently under discussion.

Early marriages have tragic consequences for their victims. They enhance the risks of violences, especially sexual violences, which themselves increase the risks of infection by HIV/AIDS. These early marriages also favor the risks of early pregnancies that have dramatic psychological and physical impacts, even leading to death. Finally, early marriages prevent the access for girls to education and limit significantly the access to work, ownership, self-empowerment and involvement in the economic and political development of their country and of the entire African continent.

Madam President,

FIDH welcomes the initiative taken by the Commission to develop Guidelines on the fight against sexual violences and their consequences in Africa. This tool will serve as a guide for African states in their activities of prevention of sexual violence, including violence resulting from early marriage, prosecution of perpetrators and development of guarantees of effective access to protection, support, justice and compensation for victims. These guidelines will also be really important for us, representatives of the civil society, as we are engaged alongside the victims.

FIDH encourages the African Commission to continue and reinforce its action against discriminations and violences on girls. On this regard, we call the African Commission:

  • To keep on promoting the ratification, without reservations, of regional and international instruments on the protection of women and children’s rights, and their incorporation in domestic laws as well as their effective implementation;
  • To call on states to eliminate all legislative provisions that legalize or encourage early and forced marriages, to guarantee the minimum legal age for marriage to the age of 18, without exceptions, to make early and forced marriage a criminal offense and to erase all barriers to the access for girls to legal and safe abortion;
  • To call on states to conduct outreach and educational activities on rights of girls, especially the provisions of regional and international instruments regarding the issues of legal age for marriage, consent, necessity of registration of marriages and births (to prove the illegality of early marriages), and the consequences of early and forced marriages;
  • To call on states to strengthen their support and assistance to girls victims of early and forced marriage, sexual violence or to girls wishing to have abortion, especially by facilitating their access to justice, to legal and social assistance and to psychological and medical care, including sexual and reproductive health;
  • To call on states to ensure the effectiveness of prosecutions and convictions of people responsible for early and forced marriages, and to ensure the implementation and rapidity of repairs due to victims.
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