HRW calls for end to rights abuses against African girls on Day of the African Child
© WikiMedia (US State Department)
HRW calls for end to rights abuses against African girls on Day of the African Child

Human Rights Watch (HRW) Thursday urged members of the African Union (AU) to take drastic steps to protect young girls and women. The report was released on the AU’s the Day of the African Child. Among the concerns raised by HRW are child marriage, free education for children, and allowing pregnant girls and young women in school. The theme for this year’s Day of the African Child is “Eliminating Harmful Practices Affecting Children: Progress on Policy and Practice since 2013.”

HRW cited statistics from Girls Not Brides showing a continued prevalence of child marriage, with the top locations being Niger, the Central African Republic, and Chad, all of which are AU member states. The report also cites an increase in both child marriage and teenage pregnancy across Sub-Saharan Africa throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

The AU has cited Article 21 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) as a response to this issue, which says “Child marriage and the betrothal of girls and boys shall be prohibited and effective action, including legislation, shall be taken to specify the minimum age of marriage to be eighteen years and make registration of all marriages in an official registry compulsory.” HRW claims that enforcement is “slow,” citing Nigeria’s high rates of child marriage despite banning the practice.

HRW also raised concerns surrounding the ability of pregnant girls and young women to access education. HRW cited Kenya as an example of a member-state government with protections for pregnant girls and young women to access education, but still has a ban on pregnant students in public school.

The AU highlighted the Article 11 of the ACRWC in a tweet Thursday. The article says “States Parties to the present Charter shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that children who become pregnant before completing their education shall have an opportunity to continue with their education on the basis of their individual ability.” However HRW said the charter was ineffective in its application, citing Tanzania’s removal of a pregnant student ban but maintenance of a ban on students who are married.

HRW concluded the report, stating:

The African Union should amplify the call by African human rights institutions and urge all of its member states to outlaw child marriage. … It should encourage countries to adopt laws and school continuation policies that encourage girls to stay in school and to return to school after having a child, so that they can succeed academically.