N.I Child Marriage Raised at UN Children’s Rights Committee

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23 May 2016

The Human Rights Commission has published its report to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. It will present this report to the Committee today 23 May in Geneva.

Speaking ahead of the Committee presentation, NIHRC Chief Commissioner, Les Allamby commented:

“Child, Early and Forced Marriage is one, in over twenty issues that we have brought to the attention of the UN in this report. The marriage of under 18 year olds is a live issue in Northern Ireland that needs to be addressed through a change to the law. This issue is a global one as well as a local one.”

Latest Figures, obtained from N.I Statistics and Research Agency, highlight that 68 children were married in 2014 of these 42 were girls and 26 were boys. In N.I under the 2003 Order a child aged 16 or 17 years of age may be married with the consent of their parents or legal guardians. This runs contrary to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recommendation to increase the minimum age for marriage with and without parental consent to 18 years, for both girls and boys.

Commenting on the wider aspects of the report, Les Allamby added:

“Many of these issues have been raised before, but unfortunately progress has been poor. They include a lack of movement on raising the age of criminal responsibility, ending smacking of children and reducing the use of remand for children in the criminal justice system. The new NI Assembly and Executive needs to step up to the mark. Children’s rights must be prioritised and a devolved government be seen to take its international obligations seriously. Our elected representatives should take the decisive actions required to improve the protection of our children’s rights.”

The Commission has advised that the UN Committee should ask the UK Government, including the Northern Ireland Executive to:

• Take immediate efforts to repeal all legal provisions permitting the marriage of children in N.I.

• Take immediate action to increase the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to at least 12 years of age.

• Thoroughly investigate all assaults against children by members of parmilitary organisations, ensure that the perpetrators are prosecuted and if convicted, punished with appropriate sanctions.

• Abolish the defence of reasonable chastisement of a child to a charge of common assault.

• Take immediate steps in Northern Ireland to decriminalize abortion in all circumstances and review its legislation with a view to ensuring children’s access to safe abortion and post-abortion care services; and ensure that the views of the pregnant girl are always heard and respected in abortion decisions, in line with the Committee recommendation relating to Ireland.

• Take immediate action to ensure that children are held in pre trial detention only in circumstances where it is a measure of last resort.

ENDS

Further information:

Please contact Claire Martin on: (028) 90269760) or on 0771 7731873.

Notes to editors:

1. The Committee’s examination of the UK will take place at the United Nations offices in Geneva in May 2016.

2. Child, Early and Forced Marriage (pg 16-18 of the attached report)

• The Commission notes that paragraph 13 of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child General Comment No. 4 (2003) states that:

• The Committee strongly recommends States Parties to review and, where necessary, reform legislation and practice to increase the minimum age for marriage with and without parental consent to 18 years, for both girls and boys.

• The Commission notes that this recommendation reflects that of the CEDAW Committee within its General Recommendation 21. The Commission refers to paragraph 39 of the State Report, the Marriage (Northern Ireland) Order 2003 provides that 18 is the minimum age at which an individual can consent to marriage. However under the 2003 Order a child aged 16 or 17 years of age may be married with the consent of their parents or legal guardians. The law of Northern Ireland therefore runs contrary to the Committee’s recommendation.

• The Commission notes that in Northern Ireland 68 children were married in 2014 of these 42 were girls and 26 were boys. It is estimated that globally over the next decade 140 million girls under the age of 18 years will be forced to marry without their consent. This amounts to a rate of 39,000 girls every day. Whilst most research on the issue of early and forced marriage has focused on developing states, in the calendar year 2014 the Forced Marriage Protected Unit in the UK gave advice or support related to a possible forced marriage in 1,267 cases, the Unit recorded that 11% of victims or potential victims of forced marriage who sought advice or support reported that they were 16 or 17 years of age. The Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 makes provision for protecting individuals against being forced to enter into marriage without their free and full consent, this extends to Northern Ireland.

• A report of a UK Home Office working group on forced marriage noted the role of parents in the practice of forced marriages:

• There is a spectrum of behaviours behind the term forced marriage, ranging from emotional pressure, exerted by close family members and the extended family, to the more extreme cases, which can involve threatening behaviour, abduction, imprisonment, physical violence, rape and in some cases murder. People spoke to the Working Group about ‘loving manipulation’ in the majority of cases, where parents genuinely felt that they were acting in their children and family’s best interests.’

4. Access the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s full report to the Committee on the Commission’s website www.nihrc.org

5. As part of the NIHRC’s engagement with the United Nations and Council of Europe treaty monitoring processes, it presents this submission regarding the UK’s Fifth Periodic Report on compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child(the Convention) to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child(the Committee) 72nd Session.

6. The Commission is one of the three ‘A’ status National Human Rights Institutions in the UK. As a National Human Rights Institution the NIHRC engages with and reports to the United Nations’ and Council of Europe’s treaty monitoring processes.

7. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is a statutory public body established in 1999 to promote and protect human rights. In accordance with the Paris Principles the Commission reviews the adequacy and effectiveness of measures undertaken by the UK Government to promote and protect human rights, specifically within Northern Ireland (NI).


23 May 2016