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UN human rights experts set out states’ obligations to address child marriage

  • For the 1st time, the CEDAW and CRC committees issue joint recommendation/general comment on eliminating harmful practices
  • Document clarifies states' obligations to prevent and eliminate child marriage
  • Recommendations include: setting 18 as the legal minimum age of marriage, establishing and implementing marriage registration, and establishing national compulsory birth registration

For the first time, two human rights committees – the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Committee on the Rights of the Child – have come together to write a joint general recommendation/general comment. The committees were established respectively in 1982 and 1991 to monitor the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

The joint general recommendation/general comment is important in clarifying the obligations of state parties to the conventions to prevent and eliminate harmful practices, including child marriage. The document provides authoritative guidance on legislative, policy and other appropriate measures that must be taken to end harmful practices.

The committees recommend a rights-based holistic strategy to changing social and cultural norms, which includes the provision of free education, training and skills programmes, safe spaces, access to information on sexual and reproductive health and rights, engaging men and boys, awareness raising and access to justice. They also made the following recommendations specific to child marriage:

(f) A minimum legal age of marriage for girls and boys is established, with or without parental consent, at 18 years. When exceptions to marriage at an earlier age are allowed in exceptional circumstances, the absolute minimum age is not below 16 years, grounds for obtaining permission are legitimate and strictly defined by law and marriage is permitted only by a court of law upon full, free and informed consent of the child or both children who appear in person before the court;

(g) A legal requirement of marriage registration is established and effective implementation is provided through awareness-raising, education and existence of adequate infrastructure to make registration accessible to all persons within their jurisdiction;

(h) A system of national compulsory, accessible and free birth registration of all children is established, in order to effectively prevent harmful practices including child marriages.

The document was adopted to mark the 35th anniversary of CEDAW and the 25th anniversary of the CRC.