At the Law and Individual Rights Session, the family law issue of child brides and forced marriage was a subject of discourse. Since this is an issue affecting mostly developing countries, the panel consisted of human rights experts from India, Nigeria, and Pakistan. In attendance also were practitioners from developed countries like Britain and Germany given that they are affected as a result of the immigrant population in their countries.
Mr. Ranjit Malhotra, a Family Law Specialist, shared the forced marriage and honour killings issue within India's cultural context. He said this was an issue prevalent among the Hindus and because there is an entrenched caste system in their society, child brides that rebel against such marriages are usually seen to have brought dishonour to their families which results in the murder of such young females.
Honour killings are seen as sanctions justifiable for dishonourable behavior which is common in parts of the world like India, Pakistan and the Middle East. In India, there is no government data on the number of murders perpetrated but NGO estimate report about 900 per year.
Honour killings are especially troubling for the Western world since the provision of the Hindu Act has extra-territorial application which allows for immigrant families in Western countries to justify the killings.
In addition, he explained measures put in place by the Indian government to curb these heinous acts such as provision of Human Rights Commissions that take up cases based on petitions from victims without charges.
However, he advised that to effectively deal with the matter, there has to be policy reform, specific law dealing with honour killings different from murder under the Indian Penal Code and such law must have extra-territorial force.
Mrs. Biola Adimula, women's rights activist and former Chair, Federation of International Women Lawyers (FIDA) dealt with the child brides and forced marriage issues in the African context. For the Nigerian delegation, the issue could not have been more appropriate, given Senator Ahmed Yerima's recent marriage to an underage bride.
She gave statistics on how prevalent it is in Africa. Despite, all African countries (except Somalia) being signatories to the Charter on Rights of a Child, Niger has the highest percentage of child brides at 75% and Zambia the lowest at 42%.Though the Charter and Nigerian laws define a child as human beings under the age of 18, these child brides are given out in marriage as early as 9 years and before they attain puberty.
The reasons for these forced marriages are not dissimilar to India and other countries where such practices occur. They include: poverty, political, religious and traditional reasons. Even though honour killings are not as prevalent as those reported in India, Pakistan or the Middle East, still troubling is the health effects these marriages have on child brides.