Within the project “Legal Assistance to Persons at Risk of Statelessness in Serbia”, funded by UNHCR, throughout 2016 Praxis will, among others, conduct activities directed at prevention and elimination of child, early and forced marriages (CEFM). The main activities will focus on raising awareness of Roma children and parents of potential risks and consequences of CEFM, as well as on advocacy aimed at prevention and elimination of CEFM at the local and national level.
The CEFM in Serbia represent a problem that almost exclusively affects Roma communities, and so far it has been insufficiently and inadequately addressed by competent institutions, often under the pretext that CEFM are part of Roma tradition. In addition to being one of the causes leading to statelessness, the CEFM are also a reflection of patriarchal values and traditional attitudes towards a woman’s role in society and the family, which endanger the mental and physical health of girls, expose them to a greater risk of domestic violence, lead to increased rates of drop-out of school, and later to poverty and their economic dependence on the community. As such, the CEFM represent severe violations of human rights, contrary to the Convention of the Rights of the Child and the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. According to UNICEF’s 2014 MICS, the percentage of girls who entered into marriage before their 15th birthday is 16.9% compared to 0.8% of non-Roma girls, or 57% of Roma girls compared to 6.8% non-Roma girls who entered into marriage before their 18th birthday. However, since the CEFM within the Roma community are predominantly common-law marriages, the real percentage is much higher. In addition, the statistics show that 4% of women have given birth before the age of 15, and even 38% of women aged 20-24 have given birth before the age of 18.
Within this project, which is the continuation of the joint activities of Praxis and UNHCR on CEFM dating back to 2015, four two-day workshops will be held with Roma children and parents in Leskovac and Kostolac, aimed at raising awareness of harmful effects of the CEFM with special attention on sexual and reproductive health, gender perspective, the importance of timely education, and the right to free choice of a spouse. The workshops will be followed by community meetings which will gather all relevant stakeholders at the local level. Along with raising awareness of the local communities about the importance of solving the CEFM issue, a working group will be established and will gather the representatives of Roma community along with experts on child rights and gender equality. Relying on knowledge and information gained at workshops and conclusions of the community meetings, and with analysis of regulations and cases from practice, the working group will prepare a policy brief which will provide recommendations for solving the CEFM issue.
In order to achieve greater visibility of the CEFM issue, the professional and wider public will be regularly informed about Praxis activities aimed at prevention and elimination of the CEFM.