Child marriage is a violation of human rights that impacts girls into adulthood and extends to…
What is the Prevalence of Child Marriage in Senegal
29% of girls in Senegal are married before their 18th birthday. 1% of Senegalese boys are married before the age of 18. The highest proportion of child marriages is reported in the regions of Kédougou, Kolda, Tambacounda and Kaffrine.
What drives Child marriage in Senegal
Poverty: Girls living in rural and poor households are more likely to marry early. Child marriage is used as a coping mechanism to alleviate the perceived economic burden of girls over the family.
Level of education: Girls with no education or only primary education are more likely to marry early than those with secondary or further education.
Pre-marital sex and adolescent pregnancy: High value is placed on virginity in Senegal and pregnancy out of wedlock brings dishonour to families. The fear of girls becoming pregnant drives many parents, mainly the fathers, to marry their daughters early.
Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (FGM/C): While the national prevalence rate of FGM/C is 24%, it is as high as 78% in the South of Senegal. Some Senegalese women believe that FGM/C aids marriage prospects. This often takes place during puberty, when many girls are considered ready to marry.
Harmful traditional practices: According to a 2017 study by the Ministry of Women, Family and Children, different ethnic groups have different customary practices related to child marriage. The Fula ethnic group grants child marriages at an early age between families. Future brides are moved into their marital home, so they can become familiar with it. Submission and obedience are critical qualities, and child marriage is used to reinforce social alliances. According to respondents in Tambacounda region, it is unthinkable for a Fula family to refuse a marriage proposal from another related family.
Ethnicity: As reported by the same study by the Ministry of Women, Family and Children, attitudes towards child marriage vary across ethnic groups. Some Halpulaars consider 17 to be very late for a girl to marry. Some Bassari communities believe a girl is ready to marry when she can manage to pound 50 kilograms of millet at one time. Some Wolof and Diola ethnic groups consider a girl is ready to marry before the age of 14.
What is the minimum legal requirement around marriage
Under the Family Code 1989, Article 111 the minimum legal age of marriage is 16 years for girls and 18 years for boys. However they may be married off before this if the President of the Regional Court makes an exemption for serious reasons. If this occurs, the consent of the individual’s parents will also be required.
As of April 2020, the Family Code is being revised to increase the minimum age of marriage to 18 years for girls.
What is the government doing to reduce Child Marriage?
- Senegal has committed to eliminate child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals. In its 2018 Voluntary National Review at the High Level Political Forum (the mechanism through which countries report progress in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals), Senegal reported progress made in addressing child marriage as well as changes in prevalence rates.
- Senegal co-sponsored the 2013, 2014 and 2018 UN General Assembly resolutions on child, early and forced marriage, and the 2013 Human Rights Council resolution on child, early and forced marriage. In 2014, Senegal also signed a joint statement at the Human Rights Council calling for a resolution on child marriage.
- Senegal ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990, which sets a minimum age of marriage of 18, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1985, which obligates states to ensure free and full consent to marriage.
- In 2015 the CEDAW Committee raised concerns about the lack of criminalisation of marriages with a child aged between 13 and 18. It recommended that that government carry out awareness-raising on child marriage directed at men and women in cooperation with civil society.
- In 2016 the UN Child Rights Committee raised concerns about slow progress in the abandonment of child marriage, particularly in rural areas. It recommended that Senegal expedite the adoption of the Plan of Action to End Child Marriage and implement effective monitoring systems to assess progress towards this.
- During its 2013 Universal Periodic Review, Senegal supported recommendations to run public awareness programmes on the harmful consequences of child marriage and to raise the minimum age of marriage to 18. During its 2018 Universal Periodic Review, Senegal supported recommendations to intensify measures aimed at eliminating harmful traditional practices, including child, early and forced marriages by adopting a national action plan to end child marriage and amend the Family Code and the Criminal Code to raise the minimum age of marriage to 18 years for both boys and girls.
- In 1998 Senegal ratified the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, including Article 21 regarding the prohibition of child marriage. In 2004 Senegal 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.
- In June 2016, Senegal launched the African Union Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa.
- As a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), in 2017 Senegal adopted the Strategic Framework for Strengthening National Child Protection Systems under which protecting children from marriage is a priority. In June 2019, the ECOWAS Heads of State endorsed the ECOWAS Child Policy and Strategic Action Plan and the 2019-2030 Roadmap on prevention and response to child marriage.
- In addition, in July 2019, the ECOWAS First Ladies signed “The Niamey Declaration: Call to End Child Marriage and to promote the Education and empowerment of Girls”, calling Member States to initiate legislative, institutional and budgetary reforms to implement the 2019-2030 Roadmap.
- At the London Girl Summit in July 2014, the government signed a charter committing to end child marriage by 2020.
- Senegal is a partner developing country of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).
What is the government doing to End Child Marriage?
- In December 2019, the government of Senegal reported to the CEDAW Committee that the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Women, Family and Gender have begun the process of reviewing national legislation to eliminate laws that discriminate against women and harmonise them with international legal texts. Amendments to the provisions of the Family Code relating to the age of marriage (article 111) are among the proposals made. The government also reported the development of an advocacy document to support the process of reforming discriminatory laws.
- The Government’s commitment to respond to child marriage has translated into the development of a national strategy led by the Directorate of Child Protection, which, since the government reshuffle in 2017, is in charge of the issue of child marriage under the Ministry on Good Governance and Child Protection.
- The government also reported some awareness-raising efforts on early marriages and pregnancies at national and community-level as part of a programme for female education and women’s empowerment.
- Child marriage is identified as a child protection issue in the National Strategy for the Protection of Childhood of December 2012. The National Strategy was operationalised in a 2016-2019 Action Plan, which also has a specific budget.
- The National Action Plan on Combating Gender-based Violence, adopted in 2015, also categorises child marriage as gender-based violence.
- The government is in the process of developing an Action Plan for implementing the African Union Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa, launched in 2016. But, as of February 2020, there are no updates.
- In June 2019, the government of Senegal and The Gambia, in partnership with the survivor-led NGO, Safe Hands for Girls, convened the Africa4Girls Summit on ending Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and Child Marriage.
- The Government of Senegal also hosted the 2017 High-Level Meeting on Ending Child Marriage in West and Central Africa, which signified a promising opportunity to continue advocating for efforts to eliminate child marriage at the national level.
- World Vision has been working with Muslim and Christian religious leaders to change attitudes and behaviours on topics such as child marriage, child rights and birth registration, in order to achieve sustainable social norm change in Senegalese communities.
- Senegal is one of 11 countries working to create child marriage-free communities by 2020 as part of the Her Choice Alliance.
- Too Many, Country Profile: FGM in Senegal, 2015,
- 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.
- African Union, Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa: Call to Action, 2013.
- Agence Nationale de la Statistique et de la Démographie et ICF, Sénégal Enquête Démographique et de Santé Continue 2017, 2018.
- Civil society organisation coalition to end child marriage in Senegal, Child marriage in Senegal: Progress must be consolidated to end child marriage, Code de la Famille Sénégalais, 1989.
- ECOWAS, Final Communique. Fifty-fifth Ordinary Session of the Authority of ECOWAS Heads of State and Government, 2019.
- Girls Not Brides High-Level Meeting Aims To Urgently Accelerate Action To End Child Marriage In West And Central Africa, [website], 2017.
- UN CEDAW, Eighth periodic report submitted by Senegal under article 18 of the Convention, due in 2019, 2019, 7, 15, 25.
- UN Child Rights Committee, Concluding observations on the combined third to fifth periodic reports of Senegal, 2016, p.11, p.12.
- UN General Assembly, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Senegal, 2018, p. 18, 21, 22, 24.
- UN Women Africa, UN Women Executive Director to attend the 1st African Summit on FGM and Child Marriage in Senegal, [website], 2019.
- UNFPA, Child Marriage Country Profile: Senegal, 2016.
- United Nations, Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform, [website], 2017.
- World Vision, New Vows: Empowering Communities to End Child Marriage, 2019