Child marriage as ‘security’?

thato_motaungAuthor: Thato Motaung
Researcher, Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria

International Day of the Girl Child: 11 October 2014

“The female soldiers did everything we did. In addition they were forced to cook for the commanders, wash their clothes, and some were forced to have sex with them.” – Khalid al-Amin on life as a conscript, Aljazeera interview – Escaping Eritrea’s ‘open prison’ (3 October 2014)

The legal age at which a girl can get married in Eritrea is 18 years, however many marry earlier as an act of great desperation.

Child marriage is prohibited in numerous international human rights instruments, namely; the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) and in the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa. That said, child marriage is nevertheless rampant on the African continent. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) figures (2013), out of the 20 countries most affected by child marriage, Africa hosts 15. ‘Typical’ drivers of child marriage include customary/traditional beliefs, desire for economic gain or to provide security. I hesitated at the mention of ‘security’ because how does a minor gain security from being forced to engage in sexual reproduction, childbearing and birth within a completely unprepared body and mind?

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In the absence of democratic principles, tyranny reigns

thato_motaungAuthor: Thato Motaung
Researcher, Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria

International Day of Democracy: 15 September 2014

“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.” – William Wilberforce​

When the world celebrated the International Day of Democracy (15 September 2014), I reminded myself of some of the key tenets of democracy, namely: free and fair elections, the rule of law, the upholding of fundamental rights and freedoms — to name but a few. The mention of the rule of law in particular raised red flags in my mind as I pondered where to place Eritrea when choosing between definitions of democracy and autocracy.

The rule of law and the respect for human rights stand as prerequisites to realising democratic statehood. The laws which govern a state are enshrined in a constitution; a constitution sets the parameters for lines that cannot be crossed; the principles by which a state should conduct itself. Where then does one begin to place or reference these barriers in a country with no constitution? Who has legitimacy in decision-making? What legal standards are used? The lines continue to blur…

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Eritrea: They leave because their government has failed them

thato_motaungAuthor: Thato Motaung
Researcher, Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria

World Refugee Day – 20 June 2014

The number is 313 375, more specifically, as of mid-2013 the number we gathered from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was 313 375. That is the number of people from a population of 5 million who have at great risk to their lives, left their country to become refugees and asylum seekers in unknown lands. Since independence Eritrea has lost 6% of its population and is currently notoriously known as the tenth highest refugee producing nation in the world (UNHCR). Why are Eritreans fleeing their homeland by the thousands every month? According to the latest figures, 4 000 flee Eritrea every month.

Firstly, let it be asserted from the onset that Eritrea is not at war, but, its current default mode of perpetual war preparedness has proven as destabilising and terrifying to the country as an actual state of war. Having bravely “liberated” itself from Ethiopia in 1991, Eritrea found itself in a bitter border dispute with Ethiopia only 7 years later with a war lasting from 1998 to 2000.This dispute is a historical turning point for Eritrea as it created the platform from which to justify the sustained creation of a militarised society. In 1995 a government decree applied national service which was both compulsory for anyone from the age of 18 to 50 years. Many people were forcibly rounded-up from the streets, from their homes and torn away from their children to report for military service.

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