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Mauritania

Child marriage rates
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 15
18%
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 18
37%
International Ranking*

18

* References

* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)

Photo credit: European Commission DG Echo

Child marriage rates
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 15
18%
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 18
37%
International Ranking*

18

* References

* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)

What's the child marriage rate? How big of an issue is child marriage?

37% of girls in Mauritania are married before the age of 18 and 18% are married before their 15th birthday.

Mauritania has the 18th highest prevalence of child marriage globally.

2% of boys in Mauritania are married before their 18th birthday.

Child marriage is most prevalent in rural areas and Guidimagha (where 55% of women aged 20-49 were married before the age of 18), Assaba (44%) and Hodh Echargui (40%).

Are there country-specific drivers of child marriage in this country?

Child marriage is driven by gender inequality and the belief that women and girls are somehow inferior to men and boys. In Mauritania, child marriage is also driven by: 

  • Poverty: Girls from Mauritania’s poorest households are almost twice more likely to marry young than those living in the richest households.
  • Level of education:43% of women with no education were married as children, compared to only 22% who had completed secondary school or higher.
  • Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (FGM/C): 67% of women and girls in Mauritania have undergone FGM. FGM/C reportedly makes it possible for girls aged eight and nine to marry because it is commonly seen as a marker of adulthood and readiness for marriage.
  • Harmful traditional practices: Some young girls are fed high calorie diets and animal growth hormones to accelerate puberty and increase their marriage prospects, as obesity is typically regarded as a sign of beauty in Mauritania. The practice – known as leblouh, gavage or force-feeding – seriously jeopardises the health of girls. One child bride died in 2013 after she was force fed from the age of seven and then married off to a man who was 10 years older than her father. Local organisation L’Association des Femmes Chefs de Famille has handled 140 cases of child brides subjected to gavage and chemical gavage.
  • Slavery: Despite slavery being made illegal in 1981, thousands of people from minority Haratine and Afro-Mauritanian groups still live as domestic servants and child brides. According to local NGOs, temporary siriya marriages continue to take place between Mauritanian girls and wealthy Middle Eastern men, particularly in Saudi Arabia.

Violence against girls: Under the practice of maslaha, or “kinship marriages”, young girls are being married off to cousins in efforts to protect them from sexual violence.

What has this country committed to?

Mauritania has committed to eliminate child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals. The government reported progress towards this target during its Voluntary National Review at the 2019 High Level Political Forum. It also stated that because of population growth, the number girls at risk of this practice will continue to increase. Therefore, efforts are needed to reach the targets related to addressing child marriage by 2030, and the legal framework for gender-based violence, including child marriage and genital mutilation, needs to be improved and strengthened.

In 2014, Mauritania signed a joint statement at the Human Rights Council calling for a resolution on child marriage.

Mauritania ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, which sets a minimum age of marriage of 18, and acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 2001, which obligates states to ensure free and full consent to marriage.

In 2018, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed serious concerns about the continued high prevalence of child marriage in Mauritania. The Committee recommended Mauritania to expedite legislative reforms aimed at prohibiting child marriage without exception and conduct awareness-raising programmes to change public perception.

During its 2014 review, the CEDAW Committee raised concerns about discriminatory provisions in the Personal Status Code enabling the authorisation of marriages for girls under the age of 18 by their guardians.

During its 2015 Universal Periodic Review, Mauritania supported recommendations to develop a comprehensive national strategy and laws for combatting child marriage.

In 2005 Mauritania ratified the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, including Article 21 regarding the prohibition of child marriage.

In 2005 Mauritania ratified the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, including Article 6 which sets the minimum age for marriage as 18.

Mauritania is a partner country of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).

What is the government doing to address this at the national level?

The Sahel Women Empowerment and Demographic Dividend (SWEDD), implemented by the government of Mauritania with technical support from UNFPA, is working to empower women and girls by keeping girls in school, among other interventions including a communication campaign. The campaign gears toward behaviour change, raising awareness about the harmful effects of child marriage and adolescent pregnancy, and attracting support from imams and religious leaders.

What is the minimum legal framework around marriage?

Under the Personal Status Code Act 2001 the minimum legal age of marriage is 18 years with no exceptions. Article 9 and 10 of the Act mention that an adult woman cannot be married without both her consent and the presence of her guardian (weli) who must be male and Muslim, and that the silence of the woman is taken as consent.

Source

Equality Now, Protecting the girl child. Using the law to end child, early and forced marriage and related human rights violations, 2014, https://www.equalitynow.org/sites/default/files/Protecting_the_Girl_Child.pdf (accessed March 2020).

Global Partnership for Education, Mauritania, [website], https://www.globalpartnership.org/where-we-work/mauritania (accessed March 2020).

Government of Mauritania, MAURITANIE, Enquête par grappes à indicateurs multiples, 2015, 2017, https://mics-surveys-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/MICS5/West%20and%20Central%20Africa/Mauritania/2015/Final/Mauritania%202015%20MICS_French.pdf (accessed March 2020).

Loi N°2001-052 Du 19 Juillet 2001 Portant Code Du Statut Personnel, http://www.droit-afrique.com/upload/doc/mauritanie/Mauritanie-Code-2001-statut-personnel.pdf (accessed March 2020).

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, Joint statement on child, early and forced marriage, HRC 27, Agenda Item 3, [website], 2014, http://fngeneve.um.dk/en/aboutus/statements/newsdisplaypage/?newsid=6371ad93-8fb0-4c35-b186-820fa996d379 (accessed March 2020).

Musawah, Mauritania: Overview of Muslim Family Laws & Practices, 2017, https://www.musawah.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Mauritania-Overview-Table.pdf (accessed March 2020).

Realisez Votre Potentiel de Developpement (SWEDD), Mauritanie, [website], http://www.projetswedd.org/country/mauritanie/ (accessed March 2020).

République Islamique de Mauritanie, Revue Nationale Volontaire des Objectifs de Développement Durable, 2019, p.38 and 39, https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/23447Mauritania_REVISED_AS_OF_24JUNERevueNationalVolontaire_Mauritanie2_medium.pdf (accessed March 2020).

The Guardian, The unspeakable truth about slavery in Mauritania, [website], 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2018/jun/08/the-unspeakable-truth-about-slavery-in-mauritania (accessed March 2020).

Thomas Reuters Foundation, Mauritania must ban deadly force feeding of child brides – activists, [website], 2014, http://news.trust.org//item/20140117185616-fl4hq (accessed March 2020).

Tostan, UNICEF video highlights the movement to abandon female genital cutting in Mauritania, [website], 2013, https://www.tostan.org/unicef-video-highlights-movement-abandon-female-genital-cutting-mauritania/ (accessed March 2020).

UN CEDAW, Concluding observations on the combined second and third periodic reports of Mauritania, 2014, p.13, http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CEDAW/C/MRT/CO/2-3&Lang=En (accessed March 2020).

UN Child Rights Committee, Concluding observations on the combined third to fifth periodic reports of Mauritania, 2018, p. 2, 4, 5, 6, https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CRC%2fC%2fMRT%2fCO%2f3-5&Lang=en (accessed March 2020).

UN General Assembly, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, Mauritania, 2015, p.16, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/MRindex.aspx (accessed March 2020).

UNFPA, In Mauritania, imams take to radio waves to say child marriage is against Islam, [website], 2019, https://www.unfpa.org/news/mauritania-imams-take-radio-waves-say-child-marriage-against-islam# (accessed March 2020).

UNICEF DATA, Female genital mutilation (FGM), February 2020, https://data.unicef.org/topic/child-protection/female-genital-mutilation/ (accessed March 2020).

UNICEF global databases 2020, based on Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS), Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), and other national surveys. Population data from United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2019). World Population Prospects 2019, Online Edition. Rev. 1.

United Nations, Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform, [website], 2017, https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg5 (accessed March 2020).

Women’s UN Report Network, “Forced fattening” practice of Leblouh, 2009, https://wunrn.com/2009/02/mauritania-young-reject-forced-fattening-practice-of-leblouh/ (accessed March 2020).

* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)