Child rights

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Praxis Held Follow-up Workshops on Prevention and Elimination of Child, Early and Forced Marriages

In September and October 2016, Praxis held three two-day workshops for Roma women and men in Leksovac, Kostolac and Novi Pazar, aimed at prevention and elimination of child, early and forced marriages. The workshops were organized as part of the activities on the project “Legal Assistance to Persons at Risk of Statelessness in Serbia”, funded by UNHCR. 

The workshops followed the activities initiated in 2015 in Novi Pazar and continued in Leskovac and Kostolac in April 2016. A total of 75 women and girls and 75 men and boys took part in the workshops. Due to the specific gender role of women in the Roma community, the workshops were organized in a way that first day of the workshop targeted women and the second men. 

The goal of the workshops was to come up with the proposal of mechanisms that would lead to prevention and elimination of this harmful traditional practice, during a two-day interactive discussion about the importance of the healthy early child development, respect for children’s needs and wishes, necessity of regular health protection, sexual and reproductive health, the importance of timely and continuous education. The issues identified as leading causes of child, early and forced marriages were, as in the first round of workshops, poverty, low educational status of Roma families living in Roma settlements, the high unemployment rate of the Roma and patriarchal cultural tradition. In addition, it turned out that the lack of support for Roma children in the education system through monthly bus tickets, free textbooks and scholarships for secondary school students, is one of the possible causes of child, early and forced marriages.

The average age of marriage among the present Roma women was 16-17, and 18-19 among the Roma men. Also, the minimum age of marriage among the Roma women ranges from 13-15, the age when 21 present Roma women got married (28%). Only 22 participants (29.3%) entered into marriage /common marriage after 18 years of age, i.e. after the marriageable age.

“You are a child, and then you are a woman. You are never a young girl.” 

“I got pregnant when I was 15 and I hardly survived.”

“Some girls are married by their parents, when they find them rich husband.”

“Tradition. If she fails to get married until she is 15, she is not a girl any more, she is old. Culture now comes from a family. I lost one daughter when she was 14, she got married as young as I had been. Then I kept the younger daughter until she was 17, and then she knew how to think .”

“Virginity must be saved before a marriage. That’s how a girl did her mother proud.”

“I was ashamed when my daughter got married at 13, I hid so that nobody could congratulate me on the son-in-law.”

“We make mistakes as well. It’s a great blow when your daughter runs away and gets married at 13. To go there, or not to go? You go and see, and poverty makes you leave your child there. It’s shame to return the child. It’s a big mistake!” 

In order to help the participants to consider the problem of child, early and forced marriages from different aspects, the video clips Avoid My Destiny and I’m a Roma Woman were played. The former, which is about testimonies of Roma women who are victims of forced marriages and domestic violence, left a strong impression on the participants, who generally sympathized with the fates of Roma women from the video clip, and denied the presence of such practices in their communities. The latter, with its affirmative concept inspired the participants and directed them once again to perceive education as a path to better future for all girls and boys.

“This is a true story. When poor, people accept this and that, they throw money on the table. Its’ a tradition.”

“Money is given so that a father can escort his daughter properly. A half is given to the daughter and the son-in law, and a half is spent on the wedding party.”

"This is beautiful. You see a woman who has a goal and she did it." 

The impression is that the participants see the workshop as very useful, as support to the Roma community in terms of identifying their problems and expressing the will and readiness to address them. It is necessary to continue working with Roma communities in these municipalities, provide them with advisory support and empower them to talk about this problem openly and work to resolve it. Educational and advisory work with parents, as decision makers, is equally important as the work with children aimed at raising awareness and empowering the girls and boys aged 10 to 15 years to resist this harmful traditional practice.

Workshop activities in these municipalities are followed by community meetings with representatives of institutions responsible to act in the case of child, early and forced marriages. Information obtained at workshops and community meetings, together with an analysis of regulations and case studies, will be translated into recommendations and proposals of public policies for addressing the problem of child, early and forced marriages, which Praxis will present in December 2016.

See also:

Praxis Held Workshops on Prevention and Elimination of Child, Early and Forced Marriages

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