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End forced and early marriage Mali, Burkina Faso and Cote d’Ivoire


    Forced and early marriage (FEM) constitutes a serious violation of girls’ human rights. Several international and African human rights treaties and instruments condemn early and forced marriage and establish 18 years as the minimum age of marriage. In most cases, the arrangement of a forced and early marriage is acquired at the girl’s birth or during her childhood.

    The specific right of the child (a person under 18years old), and the girl-child in particular, to enjoy her human rights, and therefore not to be married off, has been addressed by several major UN treaties and their corresponding treaty monitoring bodies.

    For young girls, the risks associated with such marriages are many. They suffer sexual violence and frequently endure egregious violations of their sexual and reproductive rights. Many are physically immature and are at risk of death during child birth, or experience life threatening and life changing health conditions, such as obstetric fistula.  “Women who have the fistula are often the very young women who are married very early, before age 15 and who try to deliver at home”. – Source, Burkina Faso health official.

    The women and girls victims of FEM are the human beings whose stories illuminate a landscape dominated by such stark realities. Many of them have endured, escaped from, witnessed or fought against the trampling of their most intimate rights – the rights that concern their bodies. The right to make their own decisions about love, sexuality, contraception, marriage and motherhood. The right to learn and to know enough to make those decisions. The right to healthcare and other services they need to act on those decisions. The right to live safe, with dignity and free from fear when they make those decisions. 

    The West Africa region has the continent’s most dangerous rates of early and forced marriage as it relates to the wellbeing of the young girls: 49 % of girls under 19 are living in marital unions (Source Mapping early marriage in West Africa, GNB, 2013). Girls in West Africa are also likely to be married at the very early age of 9 to 12 years. They are also more likely to be illiterate, to be extremely young at first birth, and to give birth to more children over their reproductive lives when compared to other areas of Africa.  

    According to research, the countries with the highest rates of women 20 to 24 who said they were first married or in a union by age 15 are Niger (72%), Mali (55%) and Burkina Faso (52%).  In Ivory Coast (Côte d'Ivoire), 12% of women are married before they are 15 and 36 % before the age of 18. These countries are also among those with the highest total fertility in the continent.

    Amnesty International Canada is pursuing projects in West Africa, specifically in Burkina Faso that include among others, a mission and meetings with the president and the minister of justice of the country, create a CSO network on FEM to coordinate advocacy work, a lobby tour with women rights defenders, and community based activities to lead champions and human rights friendly schools to end FEM.

    For more information about our current projects, please contact: Guy Yerama at (416) 363-9933 ext. 331 or by email

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