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ERITREA COUNTRY PROFILE ON CHILD MARRIAGES

Prevalence of Child Marriage 

With an estimated 465,000 child brides, Eritrea ranks 11th globally with the highest number of girls married before 15 years. 41% of girls aged 20-24 years are married before the age of 18 while 13% are married before their 15th birthday ( EPHS, 2010). 

What causes Child Marriage in Eritrea 

In Eritrea, child marriage is exacerbated by:

Traditional Practices

Early marriage is associated with the deeply rooted traditional practices and beliefs: 

  • Protection from loss of virginity: parents believe early marriage preserves girls from engaging in pre-marital sex (loss of virginity). A girl who loses her virginity outside marriage is highly stigmatised & loses her opportunity for marriage & family stability.
  • Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (FGM/C):  similarly, this is done to physically restrain girls from having sex out of wedlock and is generally perceived as a means of girls gaining 

social acceptance and improving their suitability for marriage. 

  • Traditional gender norms and roles assigned to girls:  Eritrean girls are brought up to take on household chores such as cooking, cleaning and 
  • fetching water at a very young age in anticipation of marriage. They are also expected to speak softly and conform to strict gender expectations which if violated deems them unfit for marriage.

Forced Military Induction

Girls have been reported to marry early in retaliation and to seek refuge from mandatory enrolment at the Sawa Military Training Centre and national service.

Place of Residence: 

Girls living in rural areas are more than twice as likely to be married before 18 than those who live in urban areas.

Low levels of Education 

In Eritrea, early marriage is the main reason for dropping out of school, where (69% of girls and 39% of boys) age 15-29 who ever attended school were dropped out of school (EPHS 2010).

Likewise, according to the EPHS data for the age groups 20-24 years, girls who have some primary education have a 4% higher likelihood (62%) of being married before 18 years compared to those with no education (58%); however, girls who have attained secondary education are less likely (26%) to be married before 18 years.

Inequitable wealth distribution 

According to EPHS 2010, child marriage assessed from girls married before 18 years in the age groups of 20-24 years is concentrated in the poorest (54%) , the poor ( 58%) , average  (56%) and Rich ( 41% ) quintiles of wealth ; while only 14% of the richest quintile is affected. From this analysis, girls in rich and average settings may not be at less risk of child marriage as those from the poorest and poor settings.

What is the minimum legal framework for Child Marriage in Eritrea

  • The Eritrean Civil Code (article 581 and 329) mentions that marriageability age is 18 years. However, girls may be given dispensation to marry at 16 years if they are pregnant or have already given birth to a child.
  • Proclamation No. 1/1991 of the GoSE specifies that any contract of marriage made between persons (spouses) below 18 years of age is void, and that the spouses and witnesses to such marriage shall be punishable under the penal Code (Art.614); and article 158/2007 to abandonee FGM/C
  • Article 607. Age- 1. Criminal sanction stipulates that:
  • A state authority who presides over a child marriage shall be liable to the punishment provided in the penal code if he knew or should have known such circumstances.
  • The bride groom or the bride who is under eighteen years of age, the persons who have consented to the marriage and the witness shall be liable to the punishment provided in the penal code.
  • However, most customary laws determine marriageability age through consensus of community elders; while the unwritten customary laws determine girls’ readiness for marriage not based on the civil minimum age but on: physical maturity (first mentrual period and development of breasts) , cultural ceremonies and participation in economic activities;

National & Global Commitments made by Eritrea to End Child Marriage:  

  • The 1994 ratification of Convention on the Rights of the Child that set 18 years as the minimum age of marriage. 
  • The 1995 adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) requiring free and full consent to marriage.
  • The 1999 ratification of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child
  • The 2012 signature (not yet ratified) of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.
  • Co-sponsorship of the 2013 and 2014 UN General Assembly Resolutions including the Human Rights Council resolution on child, early and forced marriage; and the 2014 Human Rights Council resolution on Child Marriage. 
  • The 2014 and 2015 Universal Periodic Reviews where the country concurred on examining recommendations and adopting a national strategy to abolish child marriage. 
  • The June 2016 launch of the African Union Campaign to End Child Marriage.
  • The 2019 ICPD25 (Nairobi Summit) commitment to end all forms of violence against women and girls, including early, child and forced marriage.
  • The 2019 signature and adoption of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals including target 5.3 to End Child Marriage and all other forms of violence against girls and women. 
  • Eritrea is a partner country of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).

What is the government doing to End Child Marriages? 

  • The 2016 launch of the African Union Campaign to End Child Marriage in Eritrea with government and partner commitments to enforce legal instruments to end the practice. 
  • The 2017 establishment of the National Steering Committee comprising the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Labour and the National Union of Eritrean Women. The committee coordinates previous FGM/C and child marriage committees from the regional to administrative village level.
  • A 2019 CEDAW report indicated that the regional and subnational committees had held 400 action planning meetings and led targeted ending harmful practices campaigns that reached 300,000 citizens.
  • Establishment of Child Wellbeing Committees tasked to lead the implementation of the Child Rights Convention and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.
  • The Ministry of Labour and Human Welfare continues to organise training workshops for sub-regional social workers to skill them on key strategies for ending child marriages.

Recommendations 

  • The national early marriage prevention approach should be collaboratively led by children, their families, teachers, health professionals, child protection and faith-based organizations, lawmakers & law enforcing bodies e.t.c 
  • Strong National level advocacy activities should be implemented focussing on the government authorities, religious leaders, community associations and law enforcement authorities to enforce the law; as well as to work together in ending child marriage; 

Sources 

  1. African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, [website], 2018, 
  2. African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, [website], 2018, 
  3. African Union, Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa: Call to Action, 2013
  4. Ending child marriage and harmful traditional practices from Eritrea, 2015, 
  5. Global Partnership for Education, Eritrea
  6. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, Joint statement on child, early and forced marriage, HRC 27, Agenda Item 3, 
  7. Nairobi Summit, Government of the State of Eritrea’s Commitment
  8. National Statistics Office, Eritrea Population and Health Survey, 2010
  9. UN CEDAW, Concluding observations on the fourth and fifth periodic reports of Eritrea, 2015, p.3
  10. UN CEDAW, Sixth periodic report submitted by Eritrea under article 18 of the Convention, due in 2019, CEDAW/C/ERI/6, 2019, p. 8
  11. UN General Assembly, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, Eritrea, 2014, p.20
  12. UN General Assembly, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, Eritrea, 2019, p. 18
  13. UNICEF and UNFPA, Child Marriage: A Mapping of Programmes and Partners in Twelve Countries in East and Southern Africa, 2018
  14. UNICEF, Eritrea Launches a National Campaign to End Child Marriage,  
  15. UNICEF, Eritrean Habarawi Approach for promoting social change Collective Systemic Action on FGM/C Abandonment, 2012, 

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