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When the excuse is worse than the violation

Feb 23,2019 - Last updated at Feb 23,2019

The other day, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, mandated to monitor the application of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, reviewed Estonia's third periodic report, and I took time, as a member, to argue against the country's lowering the age of marriage to 14.

At the beginning, I could not believe that a European country and member of the EU would allow girls as young as 14 to marry, ostensibly out of necessity, if they become pregnant. I pressed the delegation that the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other human rights instruments would absolutely forbid such a marriage on the obvious ground that a girl as young as 14 is a child, and there is no legal or moral way of getting around this point, no matter what.

Countries, developed or developing, all agree that children must be protected from child marriages for obvious reasons. Neither biologically, nor psychologically are very young girls mature enough to enter into the threshold of marriage, but Estonia chose to go the opposite way at this time and age and legalise child marriages.

The excuse is even worse than the violation; we said the delegation allows child marriages when the girl bears children! What kind of excuse is this, I would ask! Why are children put in a situation where they get pregnant and bear children when they are still children?

The delegation replied to all my concerns by saying, "but wait a minute, our laws proclaim these child-bearing children adults, and treat them as such the minute they become pregnant" — I thought this is preposterous, but that is not the way Estonia sees it.

Is it real that when children get pregnant, they are transformed instantly from being children to being adults? Bearing children is, for sure, a fast maturing process and Estonia may have a point there. But try convincing the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child of this bizarre stance!

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