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Friday, 20 November 2020

On the Occasion of World Children's Day

Today, on World Children's Day, we would like to once again draw attention to the problem of child marriages, facing marginalized children in Serbia, particularly those in the Roma community.

According to the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey for 2019 (MICS 6), conducted by the Republic Statistical Office, with the technical and financial support of UNICEF, the European Union, UNFPA, and the Government of the Republic of Serbia, some progress has been made regarding children in Roma settlements. Progress can be seen in the increased immunization coverage of children in Roma settlements, doubled rate of secondary school attendance among Roma girls, and reduced under-five and infant mortality, although this data is still significantly less favorable than the one regarding the general population.

However, a clear stagnation is noticeable in the area of child, early and forced marriages, although according to the sustainable development goals they are perceived as a harmful practice that should be eliminated by 2030. The MICS 6 survey indicates that the rate of child marriages among girls and young women from Roma settlements is still extremely high. That is to say, the percentage of women from Roma settlements aged 20-24 who got married before the age of 18 is 55.8%, while the percentage of women of the same age who got married before the age of 15 is 15.9%. The percentage of women aged 15-19 who are currently married or in an extramarital union is as high as 34.1%. By getting married early, children are deprived of their childhood, regular mental and physical development, schooling, and the opportunity to independently choose a partner in the future. As dropping out of school is both a cause and a consequence of child marriages, the risk of economic dependence and poverty is increased. At the same time, children are exposed to violence, the risk of statelessness, and the risk of economic and sexual exploitation.

Regarding the prevention of child marriages, this year, Praxis held a series of workshops with more than 200 primary school students in 9 municipalities across Serbia, with the aim of raising awareness about the harmfulness of this practice. "Let us spend our childhood in school, not looking after children!", "Take care of the children" are just some of the messages these children have addressed to the competent institutions and to the community. 

Child marriage is a gross violation of the rights of the child, especially girls, and should be viewed as such. In order to prevent and eliminate this phenomenon, in addition to raising awareness, a greater and more active commitment of the state is necessary, as well as strengthened cooperation and proactive action of the competent institutions. The view that this harmful practice represents Roma culture and tradition must not be an excuse for disrespecting national and international laws, and especially, for preventing each child from reaching its full potential.


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