Brussels, Belgium – The Belgian Parliament unanimously adopted a resolution on 5 March 2015 calling for more efforts to help end child, early, and forced marriage.
Initiated by Hon. Nele Lines and AWEPA Member Hon. Karine Lalieux, the resolution follows Plan Belgium’s campaign to end child marriage, launched in October last year under the umbrella of the Girls Not Brides Organisation. According to the resolution,the Belgian government needs to address child marriage both as part of its development and cooperation policy, and in negotiations on the post-2015 development framework.
Hon. Els Van Hoof, member of the Belgian parliament and Political Coordinator of the AWEPA “Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting” Programme presented the resolution at the recently held 18th Conference of the Network of Women Parliamentarians of Central Africa (RFPAC) in Gabon, on the subject of “the Role of Women Parliamentarians in the Protection of Young Girls Facing Early Marriages and Pregnancies.”
The new resolution will help to push for clear and ambitious indicators to measure progress with regards to this typical form of gender-based violence.
Immediately after the vote in Parliament, Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Development Cooperation, Alexander De Croo, commented: “Child marriage is a complex problem: parents often do not want to send their daughters off at a young age but, because of poverty or traditions, they feel like they have no choice. Within the Belgian development cooperation we explore all the options to address this vital human rights issue and to prevent that these young girls lose their childhood and their future.”
Prevalence rates higher than 30% are recorded in seven out of Belgium’s 18 official partner countries, namely Niger, Mali, Mozambique, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Benin.
However, according to a quantitative study carried out by the International Centre for Reproductive Health (ICRH), the issue of child marriage is not limited to these countries. In fact, the study revealed that forced, early and child marriage also occurs within Belgium itself.
According to the ICRH, more than 56 complaints were received by the police between 2010 and 2013, a figure which may represent only the tip of the iceberg; as Prof. Els Leye, postdoctoral fellow at the ICRH, points out “there is an under-reporting, which happens more often in the case of violence against women and children.”
Police complaints are rare, often as a result of fear or loyalty to the family and/or community. That fear can have far-reaching consequences, including violence, isolation, and psychological, financial and integration problems.
According to Plan Belgium and the Belgian Institute for Gender Equality, child marriage in Belgium mainly affects the Roma and Afghan communities. They have called on the Belgian government to strengthen the measures in place to combat the practice domestically, starting from the early identification of the most at-risk cases in schools and bilateral policies with the countries concerned.
The ICRH study also details possible steps forward. A national action plan, drawn up by the Institute, includes a number of recommendations, which will be submitted to the different governments of Belgium and will push for more concrete instruments to quickly and effectively detect forced and child marriages.