12 Things To Know About Child Marriage

Chucosqueros school
Fifth Grade Class in Chuchoquesera, Peru. These girls would likely end their formal education with fifth grade, with marriage to follow.

Originally published on World Moms Blog.

My daughter, who recently turned 11, will be graduating from fifth grade in a few weeks.  After the summer break, she will continue on to middle school.  But for 34 million girls in our world today, the completion of primary school likely marked the end of formal education.  It may even have meant that it was time for her to be married.

When I visited the classroom in the Peruvian highlands that is pictured above, I noticed that slightly more than half of the students were girls. I remarked on this fact to the human rights activist who was giving us the tour of this Quechua-speaking indigenous community.  He smiled sadly and said, “Yes, but this is fifth grade.  In sixth grade, children go to a lower secondary school that is farther away.  Most of the girls won’t go.  It takes too long to walk there and they are needed to help at home, so the parents won’t let them go.  Besides, most of them will be married soon.”

Worldwide, more than 700 million women  alive today were married as children. More than 1 in 3 – or some 250 million – were married before the age of 15.  Every year, 15 million girls are married before the age of 18. That averages out to about 28 girls a minute.

Here are a few basic facts that everyone needs to know about child marriage.  

1. Child marriage, also called “child, early and forced marriage”, is a formal marriage or informal union before the age 18. Child marriage also affect boys, but the number of girls who enter into child marriage is disproportionately higher.

2. Child marriage occurs in many countries throughout the world and is practiced by members of many religions.   UNICEF reports that rates of child marriage are highest in South Asia, where nearly half of all girls marry before age 18; about one in six were married or in union before age 15. This is followed by West and Central Africa, then Eastern and Southern Africa, where 42 per cent and 33 per cent, respectively, of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married in childhood.

3. Child marriage is rooted in gender inequality.  Child marriage is a harmful traditional practice in which a girl child is valued less than a boy by her family and community. Child marriage is also happens because of patriarchal values, including the desire to control female sexuality and reproduction.  According to UNICEF,

Marrying girls under 18 years old is rooted in gender discrimination, encouraging premature and continuous child bearing and giving preference to boys’ education. Child marriage is also a strategy for economic survival as families marry off their daughters at an early age to reduce their economic burden. 

4. Girls from poor families are almost twice as likely to marry young as girls from families with more economic security. Not only are girls from poor families more likely to become child brides, but they’re also more likely to remain poor. Yet, in the context of poverty, families may be acting in what they believe is the best interest of their child by marrying their daughter off at a young age.

5. Girls who marry before they turn 18 are less likely to remain in school. Conversely, girls who stay in school are less likely to marry and have children early and more likely to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty.   Educating adolescent girls has been a critical factor in increasing the age of marriage in a number of developing countries, including Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Thailand.

6. Girls who marry before 18 are more likely to experience domestic violence.  The International Center for Research on Women reports that child brides often show signs symptomatic of sexual abuse and post-traumatic stress such as feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and severe depression.

7. Child marriage results in girls having babies before they are physically or emotionally ready, often with serious health consequences.  According to the World Health Organization, complications related to pregnancy and childbirth are the second highest cause of death for girls between the ages of 15 and 19 around the world.  Girls under 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their twenties. The infants of young teenage girls are more likely to be stillborn or die in the first month of life. And in developing countries, 90% of adolescent pregnancies  are among married girls

8. Girls who marry before 18 often face a higher risk of contracting HIV because they often marry an older man with more sexual experience.

9.  Child marriage rates increase in the context of conflict and natural disasters. Save The Children has documented that the proportion of registered marriages where the bride was under 18 in the Syrian refugee community in Jordan rose from 12% in 2011 (roughly the same as the figure in pre-war Syria) more than doubled to 25% by 2013.6 The number of Syrian boys registered as married in 2011 and 2012 in Jordan is far lower, suggesting that girls are being married off to older men. Floods increased child marriage in Bangladesh and there is concern that the 2015 earthquakes have increased child marriage in Nepal.

10.  Despite laws against it, the practice of child marriage remains widespread. Child marriage is technically illegal in many countries that have changed their laws to comply with the international standard of 18 as the age of marriage for both boys and girls.  Social norms can be more challenging to change.  In Ethiopia, for example, the legal age of marriage is 18, but nearly one in five girls are married before they turn 15.

11. The United Nations’  Sustainable Development Goals include a greater commitment to ending child marriage. Goal 5 committed to “achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls”. Part of that commitment was a pledge to “eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriages”.

12. Ending child marriage requires work across all sectors and at multiple levels. Evidenced collected by the ICRW shows that it requires: 1)  Empowering girls with information, skills and support networks; 2)  Educating and mobilizing parents and community members; 3) Enhancing the accessibility and quality of formal schooling for girls; 4) Offering economic support and incentives for girls and their families; and 5) Fostering an enabling legal and policy framework.

For more information, resources, and ways to take action, see:

UNICEF

International Center for Research on Women

Girls Not Brides

Too Young To Wed

News You May Have Missed (22-28 February, 2015)

Reggae band SOJA partnered with UNICEF’s Out-of-School Children initiative to produce the video “Shadow” to draw attention to the importance of education for all of the world’s children.  Globally, an estimated 58 million children of primary school age and 63 million young adolescents are not enrolled in school.  Like the girl in this video, many of them are girls. Yet data demonstrates that reaching the most marginalized children may initially cost more but also yields greater benefits.  This video was filmed in Jigjiga, in the Somali region of Ethiopia, where 3 million children remain out of school. For more on global trends regarding out-of-school children, visit the UNICEF website.   

In many parts of the world, marginalized girls must often drop out of school to get married before they are able to complete their education.  But there has been some good news recently about efforts to raise the age of marriage and eliminate child marriage:

Nabina, age 15. Her story is one of three child brides told in Camfed's film The Child Within.
Nabina, age 15. Her story is one of three Malawian child brides told in Camfed’s film       The Child Within.

 MALAWI’s National Assembly has unanimously passed a bill that raises the minimum age for consent to marriage from 16 (or 15 with parental consent) to 18 years of age.  While this will end legal child marriage in the country with one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world, more work will need to be done to sure that the law is implemented.

And INDONESIA’s government is preparing a bill to raise the legal age of marriage for girls to 18 years of age.  While the legal age of marriage for females is currently 16, marriage at a younger age is legal with parental consent and judicial approval. According to data from the Health Ministry in 2010, 41.9 percent of girls between the ages of 15 and 19 were married.  (P.S. The minimum age for boys to marry is 19.)

The UNITED ARAB EMIRATES has announced that it will set up a “gender balance” council to promote equality and opportunities for women in the workforce.  Despite the fact that more Emirati women than men graduate from universities in the UAE, their participation in the workforce is limited by social and legal boundaries.

In further signs that SOMALIA is finally emerging from conflict, President Obama has nominated the first U.S. Ambassador to Somalia in 24 years. 

The government of TANZANIA is launching the One Million Solar Homes initiative to bring reliable solar-powered electricity to its citizens by the end of 2017. The initiative will affect 10% of the population and create 15,000 jobs. 

Finally, in a bit of human rights history, BBC Mundo ran a story this week about the treatment of Latin Americans (particularly Peruvians) of Japanese descent during World War II.  Japanese people began migrating to Peru in considerable numbers at the end of the 1800s, seeking opportunities to work in the mines and on sugar plantations.  By the 1940s, an estimated 25,000 people of Japanese descent lived in Peru; many were successful professionals and business owners.  After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the US government asked a dozen Latin American countries, among them Peru, to arrest its Japanese residents.  In addition to arrests, about 2,200 Japanese-Latin Americans were forcibly deported to the US.

Records from the time suggest the US authorities wanted to take them to the US and use them as bargaining chips for its nationals captured by Japanese forces in Asia.

Many Japanese-Latin Americans were taken to a camp in the Panama Canal Zone first.  Image: San Francisco History Center
Many Japanese-Latin Americans were taken to a camp in the Panama Canal Zone first. Image: San Francisco History Center

As many as 4,000 men, women and children were interned during World War Two in the Crystal City camp in Texas run by the US Immigration and Naturalization Service.  Most of the detainees were of Japanese descent, although some German and Italian immigrants were also held there.

Crystal City Internment Camp was located 180 km (110 miles) south of San Antonio in Texas. Image: US National Archives
Crystal City Internment Camp was located 110 miles south of San Antonio in Texas. Image: US National Archives

Of the 2,200 Latin Americans of Japanese descent to be interned in the US, 800 were later sent to Japan as part of prisoner exchanges.  After World War Two ended, another 1,000 were deported to Japan after their Latin American home countries refused to take them back.

In 1988, then-President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act and apologised on behalf of the US government for the internment of Japanese-Americans. Under the act, the government paid tens of thousands of survivors of the camps $20,000each in reparation.  But Japanese-Latin Americans did not qualify for the payments because they had not been US citizens or permanent residents of the US at the time of their internment.  They filed a class-action suit and 10 years later, the US government agreed to pay them $5,000 each.

RIP Boris Nemtsov  “I am not afraid.”

Photo: Yuri Kadobnov, AFP/Getty Images
Photo: Yuri Kadobnov, AFP/Getty Images

Morocco: Human Rights Violations Under Article 475

Zohra Filali shows a picture of her daughter, Amina Filali, at their family house near Larache, northern Morocco. Amina Filali committed suicide after being forced to marry the man who raped her. (AP Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar)
Zohra Filali shows a picture of her daughter, Amina Filali. Amina Filali committed suicide after being forced to marry the man who raped her.
(AP Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar)

Originally published on The Advocates Post

In Morocco, a 15 year old girl experienced constant harassment and threats from a 35 year old man in her town.  He waited for her each day outside of her school and on several occasions told her, “I will force you to marry me.”  One day, he abducted and raped her at knifepoint.  The victim made a complaint to the gendarmes, who arrested the man.  In his statement to the police, the rapist admitted his crime, declaring that he did it “because it was the only way I would be able to marry her.”  In order to avoid scandal, the victim dropped out of school and married him.  “I am raped now every day,” she told members of the local association that works with women survivors of domestic violence.

This tragic story is one of many included in a joint submission The Advocates for Human Rights and our Moroccan partner Mobilising for Rights Associates (MRA) made recently to the United Nations’ Committee on the Rights of the Child.  The submission  draws attention to the serious human rights violations resulting from the application of Article 475 of the Moroccan Penal Code, which  provides that whoever “abducts or deceives” a minor, without using violence, threat or fraud, can escape prosecution and imprisonment if (i) the abductor marries the victim, and (ii) those persons who have a right to request annulment of the marriage do not file a complaint.[1]

Organizations and news reports from Morocco indicate that Article 475 has been applied in cases of sexual abuse of minors in order to preserve the “honor” of the victim and her family.  Notably, this issue has received widespread coverage following the 2012 suicide of Amina Filali, a sixteen year-old girl who killed herself after being forced to marry a man – ten years older than her – who had raped her.[2] Additional news reports confirm that the use of Article 475 continues.[3]  Further, associations working at the local level in Morocco report that girls married under Article 475 continue to suffer rape and domestic violence after the marriage.

Information from our Moroccan partners illustrates the extent of the problems with the application of Article 475. One local association that works with women reported that, of 11 cases involving rape of a minor that they handled in 2013, Article 475 was raised in 6 cases; the age of the victims ranged from 14-17, while the age of the rapists ranged from 23-28.[4]  In one case, a 14 year old girl was raped by her 28 year old cousin, and she became pregnant as a result.  She sought help from the association to file a criminal complaint, and there were several court hearings.  DNA testing established that the accused was the rapist.  Under Article 475, the two families agreed on a temporary marriage between the rapist and the victim to avoid shame, with a predetermined divorce date after one month of marriage.[5]

Associations working at the local level in Morocco report that the young victims experience tremendous pressure to abandon criminal prosecution and agree to the application of Article 475  from law enforcement, justice system personnel, as well as the families of the perpetrators. Even their own families pressure them to agree to marriage under Article 475 in order to avoid shame. Because all sexual relations outside of marriage are illegal under the Moroccan Penal Code,[6] victims also fear prosecution and imprisonment under Penal Code Article 490.[7] In fact, one Moroccan association reported several cases of rape victims who filed complaints to initiate criminal prosecution but were prosecuted themselves under Article 490.[8]

In one instance, a 15 year old girl was raped by a 25 year old man.  She became pregnant as a result of the rape, which is considered proof of illicit sexual relations.  She did not want to file a criminal complaint because she feared prosecution under Article 490, so she fled her home and sought shelter through a local Moroccan association.  The rapist’s family made threats against the victim’s mother, however, and she was pressured to not file a criminal complaint and to marry the rapist under Article 475 instead.[9]

Article 475 must be understood in the context of early marriage in Morocco.  While the legal age of marriage for both men and women is now 18 in Morocco,[10]the Family Code allows the marriage of minors when “justified” and after substantial control by the Family Affairs judge.[11]Both the number of petitions for authorization to marry minors and the approval rate are high and increasing.  In 2007, 10.03% of marriages were of minors, and 86.8% of the 33,596 petitions were authorized.[12]  In 2011, the rate had risen to 11.99% of all marriages and 89.56% of 46,927 petitions for authorization to marry a minor were granted.  33.58% of petitions in 2011 were for minors ages 14-16[13].  The overwhelming majority of the minor spouses, 99.31%, were girls.[14] The Family Code provides no threshold minimum age below which authorization to marry may never be granted.  Local NGOs report marriages of girls as young as thirteen, fourteen and fifteen.[15]

In practice, judges often issue authorizations based on their own cursory visual examination of the minor girl’s physical appearance and determination that she is capable of assuming “marital responsibilities,” rather than resorting to the required expertise.[16]  Reasons advanced by judges for authorizing underage marriage include saving family honor, avoiding scandal, protecting the girl’s chastity and preventing her from debauchery.  Some even cite marriage as a solution to poverty.  At times judges do not even substantiate their decisions in writing.  Corruption among public actors and the ease by which medical certificates attesting to the minor girl’s “maturity” can be obtained are also factors allowing circumvention of the law.[17]

In spite of the reality of early and forced marriage for young Moroccan girls, the Moroccan Government made statements in recent United Nations submissions that Article 475 does not apply to, and has not been applied in, cases of sexual abuse of minors.  For example, in response to the most recent concluding observations of the Committee Against Torture, the Moroccan Government stated that Article 475 does not apply in cases of sexual abuse and that there is no statutory text in Morocco that exempts the “perpetrator of child rape from punishment when he makes the child concerned his wife, because anyone who commits rape is punished in all instances, even when he marries the victim of rape.”[19]  The Moroccan Government further stated that Article 475 “is not applicable to rape but rather to the crime of the abduction of a minor who leaves the parental home to be with someone and agrees to marry him.”[20]

In other words, in the Moroccan Government’s view and in contrast to the many reports originating from Morocco, Article 475 is intended to address situations involving marriage without the consent of the family where the prosecution for abduction of a minor can be dropped if the victim’s family withdraws the complaint to “maintain good family relations and to protect the make-up of the family if arresting the husband could lead his minor wife to lose any chance of a normal life.”[21]

On January 22, 2014, Morocco’s Parliament voted to abolish paragraph 2 of Art. 475.  While this is a positive step, and certainly a victory to be celebrated, the bill that was approved unanimously this week only abrogates the exoneration through marriage provision.   It does not change the rest of Art. 475 which provides that a man convicted of statutory rape in Morocco is still only subject to a few years in prison and a small fine.   It does nothing to impact the larger problems faced by minor girls who experience sexual abuse or early marriage in Morocco.

The Moroccan government must go further to protect the rights of women and girls.   Given the factual situation on the ground in Morocco and the clear violations of Morocco’s obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Moroccan government must:

  • Amend Morocco’s Penal Code and Penal Procedure Code to facilitate procedures for bringing sexual abuse and rape of minors cases, including eliminating discriminatory legal provisions that require proof of actual physical injury and place heavy burdens of proof solely on the victim.
  • Amend Morocco’s Penal Code to abolish criminal prosecutions under Article 490 for “illicit sexual relations.”
  • Develop and implement a plan for educating the judiciary and public that criminal proceedings against rapists will not be terminated if they marry their victims and that Article 475 is not to be applied in cases of sexual abuse and rape of minors.
  • Penalize all acts to encourage, pressure, or threaten minors to marry, whether by public or private actors.
  • Amend Morocco’s Family Code to establish clear and objective criteria under which judicial authorizations for the marriage of minors may be granted in only exceptional cases, and in all events establish a threshold minimum age under which authorization to marry may never be granted.

Related post:  Amina Filali and Violence Against Women in Morocco


[1]Dahir n° 1-59-413 du 28 joumada II 1382 (26 novembre 1962) portant approbation du texte du code pénal, as amended, (« Penal Code »), Art. 475: 1) Quiconque, sans violences, menaces ou fraudes, enlève ou détourne, ou tente d’enlever ou de détourner, un mineur de moins de dix-huit ans (Article modifié par l’article premier de la loi n° 24-03 modifiant et complétant le code pénal, précitée), est puni de l’emprisonnement d’un à cinq ans et d’une amende de 200 (cf. supra note correspondant à l’article 111)  à 500 dirhams. 2) Lorsqu’une mineure nubile ainsi enlevée ou détournée a épousé son ravisseur, celui-ci ne peut être poursuivi que sur la plainte des personnes ayant qualité pour demander l’annulation du mariage et ne peut être condamné qu’après que cette annulation du mariage a été prononcée.

available at http://adala.justice.gov.ma/FR/Legislation/TextesJuridiques.aspx.

[3]See, e.g.,http://www.illionweb.com/larticle-475-tue-toujours/, http://www.illionweb.com/bouchra-victime-gang/, and http://www.yabiladi.com/articles/details/21035/tetouan-fille-suicide-apres-avoir.html.  In addition, one association working with MRA reported that their region of Morocco alone, three girls married under Art. 475 had recently tried to kill themselves. Written Communications to MRA and The Advocates for Human Rights from Moroccan NGOs (5 December 2013).

[4]Written Communications to MRA and The Advocates for Human Rights from Moroccan NGOs (5 December 2013).  In the same Written Communications, another association from a different region reported that Article 475 was raised in 3 of 5 rape cases that they handled where the victim was a minor.  A third association reported their experience that in 6 cases where Article 475 was raised since 2011, the average age difference between the victim and the rapist was 10 years (with victims ranging in age from 14-17 and rapists from 23-28). Id.

[5]Id.

[6]Dahir n° 1-59-413 du 28 joumada II 1382 (26 novembre 1962) portant approbation du texte du code pénal, as amended, (« Penal Code »)art. 490.

[7]Written Communications to MRA and The Advocates for Human Rights from Moroccan NGOs (5 December 2013).

[8]Id.

[9]Id.

[10] Dahir n° 1-04-22 du 12 hija 1424 (3 février 2004) portant promulgation de la loi n° 70-03 portant Code de la Famille («Family Code ») art. 19.

[11] The authorization is not subject to appeal. Id. art. 20.  Article 21 also requires the legal tutor’s (guardian’s) consent.Id. art. 21.

[13]Id.  Note that these numbers are consistent with information from the local level.  One local association that works with MRA reported that from January to November 2013, the First Instance Court in Khemisset granted 325 of 442 petitions for authorization to marry minors.  Written Communications to MRA and The Advocates for Human Rights from Moroccan NGOs (5 December 2013).

[15]Ligue démocratique de défense des droits des femmes (LDDF), Droits des femmes et code de la famille après 4 ans d’application(2007).

[16]Interviews with Local Morocco NGOs, (May 2012 – December 2013).

[17]Abdellah Ounnir, Les justiciables dans le circuit judiciaire relatif au contentieux de la famille, inLe Code de la famille: Perceptions et pratique judiciaire, pp. 89-139 (Morocco: Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, 2007);Démocratique des Femmes du Maroc(ADFM), Implementation of the CEDAW Convention: Non-Governmental Organisations’ Shadow Report to the Third and the Fourth Periodic Report of the Moroccan Government(Nov. 2007).

[18]In January 2013, the Justice Minister made a statement to the effect that he would not oppose proposed modifications to 475. A bill (sponsored by MPs) to modify and complete article 475 was adopted by the Council of the 2nd Chamber of Parliament and  transferred to the relevant Committee on legislation within that Chamber for review on January 29, 2013.  This bill would increase the penalties, eliminate the 2nd paragraph of 475, and reinforces the link between 475 and the later sexual abuse of minors articles in the Penal Code.  A second bill (sponsored by MPs) presented in the 1st Chamber would eliminate the 2nd paragraph of 475 (among other modifications to the articles on sexual abuse), but the version adopted by the legislation committee had eliminated these reforms.  Another bill (sponsored by MPs) for a VAW law in 1st chamber that would cancel 475 among its 35 articles was transferred for review to the legislation committee in February 2013.  The current status of these three bills is unknown and it is unclear what subsequent steps if any have been taken on these three bills.  A proposed VAW bill submitted by the Family Minister to the Government Council (and tabled) did not contain any modifications to Article 475. See http://www.medias24.com/POLITIQUE/5975-Benkirane-desavoue-Bassima-Hakkaoui.html.  Most recently, on January 8, 2014, the Committee on Justice, Legislation and Human Rights in on of the Parliament’s chambers voted to abolish paragraph 2 of Art. 475.  See http://www.aujourdhui.ma/maroc-actualite/societe/viol-des-mineures-au-maroc-une-loi-debattue-au-parlement-107202.html www.yabiladi.com%2Farticles%2Fdetails%2F22289%2Fviols-mineures-deputes-annulent-l-alinea.html&h=1AQFFOSTM

[19]U.N. Committee Against Torture, Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 19 of the Convention, Information Received From the Government of Morocco in Response to the Concluding Observations of the Committee Against Torture, para. 111, CAT/C/MAR/CO/4/Add.1(9 September 2013).

[20]Idpara. 112.

[21]U.N. Committee Against Torture, Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 19 of the Convention, Information Received From the Government of Morocco in Response to the Concluding Observations of the Committee Against Torture, para. 112, CAT/C/MAR/CO/4/Add.1(9 September 2013).

INTERNATIONAL DAY OF THE GIRL: Kanchi’s Story

Every morning when I come into work, I am greeted by the smiling face of a young girl. Her hair is pulled neatly back into two braids, glossy black against her pink hairbands.  Her eyes, dark and alert, shine at me – I swear I can see them twinkle.

She wears the blue uniform of her school, the Sankhu-Palubari Community School in rural Nepal.  The Advocates for Human Rights supports the school to provide the right to education to the most disadvantaged kids in the area and to prevent them from becoming involved in child labor.  Photographs from the school hang on the walls of our office, reminders to us of the lives that we impact with our human rights work.

Even though I see her every day, until last month I had never met this cheerful young girl, a girl whose smile – even in a photo – comes from her core, seems to light her entire being. Until last month, I did not know that her name was Kanchi.  And I had never heard her incredible story.

*****

In 1999, Kanchi was six years old.  She lived with her family in a village in the Kathmandu Valley.  Her parents were poor farmers; they had only a little land and some cattle and they struggled to feed their family.  Kanchi was the youngest of six sisters.  She and her sisters (and also her  brother) had to help their parents in the fields and with household chores.  Kanchi’s job was also to take the cattle to the forest to graze.   Kanchi did not go to school.   There were many children in Nepal that did not go to school at that time, but girls, like Kanchi, were more likely than boys to work rather than go to school – particularly in rural areas like the Suntole district where she lived.

Kanchi was a very smart and determined little girl.  She wanted to go to school.   So when she heard that a new school was opening in the Sankhu-Palubari community – a school for kids who were not able to go to school because they couldn’t pay or were discriminated against – she was very excited.  She rushed off to tell her parents.  But her parents, who had never themselves been educated, were not as excited as Kanchi.  Why should they let her go to school?  Who would help feed the family? Why should they send her to school if she was only going to get married in a few years anyway?

Kanchi says that she cried for a month and begged her parents to let her go to school.  One day, teachers from the new school came to visit Kanchi’s parents to talk to them about the school. The teachers explained that it would help THEM if Kanchi could read and write.  They explained why it was important for all children to go to school, even girls.  They told them that all children – even the poorest, the lowest-caste, members of indigenous groups – had a right to education.

Kanchi’s older sisters, who had never had the opportunity to go to school, took her side. Instead getting an education, they had all married young and were working in the fields.  Kanchi’s sisters argued that Kanchi should go to school, take this opportunity for a life that would be different from theirs.  Finally, their parents agreed to let Kanchi go to school.

Kanchi started at the Sankhu-Palubari Community School in 1999, one of 39  students in the first kindergarten class.  To get to school, Kanchi had to walk one and a half hours each way.  There were many other obstacles along the way, too.  At various times, her parents wanted her to stop school and help them with farming.  But she stayed in school and worked hard. She told her parents,  “I want to do something different from the others.”

Kanchi liked her teachers and felt supported by them.  She felt that the best thing about the school was the teaching environment.  She stayed in school and was one of only two girls in the first class to graduate from 8th grade.  She continued on to high school and completed 12th grade at  Siddhartha College of Banepa in 2012.  The first in her family to go to school, Kanchi is also the first girl from the Sankhu-Palubari Community School to graduate from 12th grade.

I met Kanchi for the first time in September.  Almost exactly 13 years after this brave little girl started kindergarten, she is a lovely young woman who is preparing for her university entrance exams.  She plans to study agriculture  starting in January.   Her parents are proud of her and they are happy now – she has chosen the family profession – but Kanchi is interested in learning more about organic farming so she can bring techniques back to her village.  “I want to live a healthy life and give a healthy life to others,” she says.

Sitting in the principal’s office at Sankhu-Palubari Community School, I asked her what the school meant to her.  Kanchi said, “I gained from this school my life.  If I hadn’t learned to read and write, I would be a housewife.”  When asked about her sisters, she told me that they had made sure to send their own children to school.

In her free time, Kanchi likes to sing and dance and make handicrafts to decorate her room.  She likes to play with her sisters’ children.  She has a smile that lights the whole world.  She told me her nickname, Himshila.  She smiled when she told me it means “mountain snow, strong rock”.  Strong rock.  That seems just about right.

*****

October 11, 2012 is the first International Day of the Girl Child.  The United Nations has designated this day to promote the rights of girls, highlight gender inequalities and the challenges girls face, and address discrimination and abuse suffered by girls around the globe.  In many ways, the story of Kanchi and her sisters reflects the experience of girls in many countries throughout the world.  All over the world, girls are denied equal access to education, forced into child labor, married off at a young age, pressured to drop out of school because of their gender.

There are many good reasons to ensure access to education for girls like Kanchi, however. Educating girls is one of the strongest ways to improve gender equality.  It is also one the best ways to reduce poverty and promote economic growth and development.

“Investing in girls is smart,” says World Bank President, Robert Zoellick. “It is central to boosting development, breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty, and allowing girls, and then women—50 percent of the world’s population—to lead better, fairer and more productive lives.”

The International Day of the Girl is a day to recommit ourselves to ensuring that girls like Kanchi have the chance to live their lives to their fullest possible potential.  To redouble our efforts to promote the rights of girls wherever they live in the world.   This first International Day of the Girl is also a day to honor girls like Kanchi.  A day to take the story of her success in one tiny corner of Nepal and shout it out, an inspiration for girls all around the world.  Girls like Kanchi with the strength, the bravery, the determination to change the world, but who  just need the opportunity.

Originally published on The Advocates Post.

Amina Filali and Violence Against Women in Morocco

Morocco demonstration

Demonstrations in Morocco after the suicide of Amina Filali

 Image source

Amina Filali was only 16 years old when she took her own life.  According to reports, Amina was raped last year at the age of 15 by an older man, but that crime alone was not what drove her to swallow rat poison. Instead of seeing her rapist punished for his crime, Amina was forced to marry him. A few months into an unconscionable marriage, her rapist/ husband was beating her, she told her mother. Her mother counseled her to try and bear it, according to the Moroccan daily al-Massa.  Amina must have seen no way out, no future worth living.

Why would a judge order – or even recommend – a young girl to marry her rapist? Under Article 475 of the Morocco Penal Code, a perpetrator of rape on a minor is allowed to escape punishment if he marries the victim.  While it may not be a provision of Moroccan law that is used frequently, it is a violation of human rights that has attracted international scrutiny both before and after Amina’s tragic death.  I saw this myself when I was in Geneva last November with a group of Moroccan human rights activists.  We were there to participate in the review of Morocco’s compliance with the United Nations Convention Against Torture.  Violence against women is considered torture under the Convention and the independent committee of experts charged with monitoring state compliance with the treaty had many pointed questions for the Moroccan delegation about Article 475 and other provisions related to the Moroccan government’s failure to protect women from violence.

There is no text that allows a rapist to escape prosecution or a “kidnapper” to escape punishment if he marries his victim, the Government assured the UN Committee Against Torture.  The penal code has a law on the rape of a minor, but the victim – if she has reached puberty – may CHOOSE to marry.  The marriage, if it takes place, continued the Moroccan Government delegation, would have to be based on the consent of the victim.

As Amina’s case shows, “consent” is neither adequate protection for a minor nor a remedy for the crime of rape.  Victims are not often in a position to offer informed consent as they may be pressured into marriage as an alternative in order to preserve family honor.  But in Amina’s case, Amina’s father has, according to some news reports, denied that the family ever consented to the court ruling ordering marriage to preserve family honor.

Amina’s story may be shocking to some of us, but it is a glimpse at the reality of the violence faced by women in Morocco every day.  While it is difficult to determine the exact prevalence of domestic violence throughout Morocco, statistics that are available demonstrate that domestic violence is a widespread problem. A 2011 national study on the prevalence of violence against women found that 62.8% of women in Morocco of ages 18-64 had been victims of some form of violence during the year preceding the study.

The Moroccan Penal Code provides insufficient protection against rape and sexual assault, which are often unreported and prosecutions not pursued. Spousal (also called marital or conjugal) rape is not specifically considered a crime in the Penal Code nor is it prosecuted in practice. Women are deemed to have consented to all sexual relations with their husband by the fact of marrying them. Women do not seek help when they are raped by their husbands because of the social stigma associated with rape, the difficulty in proving rape, and the futility in reporting an act that the Moroccan Government does not even recognize it as a crime. The issue of marital rape in Morocco is trivialized by the officials and executives, and is considered as being unimportant, and therefore, it is not defined nor is it acknowledged by the Moroccan law.

Rape cases in general are difficult to prove in Morocco, as actual physical injuries are required to prove non-consent. Under the Penal Code, rape is considered a crime against morality and not identified as a crime against persons.Women are deterred from reporting rape cases because of the lack of response from law enforcement and the criminal justice system. Even when a rape case is investigated, the perpetrator is not always punished.

Furthermore, sexual relations outside of marriage are illegal in Morocco, and penalties are increased if one or both people engaged in the affair are already married. Thus, there is a strong disincentive for a woman like Amina to report a rape as she risks being prosecuted for illicit sexual relations if she does not prevail in proving her rape case and she is not married to her rapist. Is it any wonder that Amina apparently kept her rape a secret even from her parents for two months?

Amina’s story is a tragedy.  But the media attention it has drawn is a cause for hope.  Amina’s story has raised awareness both inside and outside of the country about violence against women.  In addition to the media attention, there is a reinvigorated campaign to abolish the law.  There is a Facebook page and an online petition.  There have been demonstrations, with protests planned for this Saturday, March 17.

The silver lining to Amina’s story would be that the internal and external pressure  on the Moroccan government finally results in the passing of a Violence Against Women law in Morocco.  (A draft is currently stalled in InterMinisterial consultations and has not yet been introduced in Parliament.)

As the Moroccan human rights activists recommended to the UN Committee Against Torture last November:

The Moroccan Government should pass a specific violence against women law that contains both criminal and civil provisions.

• Care should be taken that that the new law does not contain provisions that would cause further harm to victims.
• The new law should expand the definition of violence against women and ensure various types of relationships
are covered by the law
• The new law should establish civil remedies, including comprehensive Civil Protection Order provisions for
women who are victims of violence

Morocco’s Penal Code should be amended to:

• explicitly criminalize conjugal rape;
• abolish criminal prosecutions for illicit sexual relations;
• eliminate laws that criminalize those who assist or harbor married women;
• abolish provisions that allow a perpetrator of rape to escape prosecution for marrying his victim; and
• eliminate discriminatory legal provisions that place heavy burdens of proof solely on the victim of violence.

Sources:

Moroccan girl commits suicide after being forced to marry her rapist, Al Arabiya News, March 14, 2012  http://english.alarabiya.net/articles/2012/03/14/200577.html

 Morocco protest after raped Amina Filali kills herself, BBC News, March 15, 2012  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-17379721

Morocco Penal Code, Article 475

U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, “2010 Human Rights Practices: Morocco”, (April 8, 2011), available at http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2010/nea/154468.htm (last visited October 10, 2011).

Moroccan Haut Commissaire au Plan, “Principaux résultats de l’Enquête Nationale sur la Prévalence de la Violence à l’Egard des Femmes (version française)”, (January 2011), available at  http://www.hcp.ma/Conference-debat-consacree-a-l-etude-de-la-violence-a-l-egard-de-femmes-au-Maroc_a66.html (last visited October 6, 2011); see also, UN Women, “Moroccan Government Release Extensive Gender-Based Violence Study”, (10 January 2011), available at  http://www.unwomen.org/2011/01/moroccan-government-releases-extensive-gender-based-violence-study/ (last visited October 6, 2011).

Written Communications to The Advocates for Human Rights from Moroccan NGOs (26 September 2011).

MOROCCO: Challenges with addressing domestic violence in compliance with the  Convention Against Torture 47th  Session of the Committee Against Torture (31 October – 25 November, 2011), Joint Written Statment submitted by The Advocates for Human Rights and Global Rights, in collaboration with an alliance of Moroccan NGOs at http://www.theadvocatesforhumanrights.org/uploads/final_shadow_report_to_cat_re_morocco_response_to_dv_oct_14_2011_sent_to_geneva_2.pdf