Tirana, 27 February 2018
OPENING REMARKS, AMBASSADOR ROMANA VLAHUTIN
Dear Minister, Deputy Minister
Colleagues from Canada and Australia,
Professor Mandro, The Observatory,
I want to thank you for dedicating time and effort to this study and for giving us the opportunity to raise the issue of the very sad phenomenon of child marriage.
There is a set of factors which contribute to this sad phenomenon, such as poverty, geographical isolation and the lack of societal value given to girls' education.
Available data suggest that it is most common among Roma ethnic groups, and also particularly affected are communities living in extremely isolated, poor, rural areas.
Study looks into the sample from 7 District Courts in the period 2011-2017 and vast majority of requests come from rural areas, 48 out of 68.
Under the Albanian family code, the legal minimum age of marriage is 18, but the same article states that a legal court may approve marriage at an earlier age, between 14 and 18 for "important reasons".
This is unfortunately a legal breeding ground which allows this phenomenon to persist. 56 out of 68 requests were approved. In 6 of those girls were under 16.
There is another legal provision that needs to be used and explored much more and that is the best interest of the child.
By virtue of being children child spouses are legally incapable of giving full consent, meaning that child marriages should be considered a violation of human rights and the right of the child.
Child marriage deprives girls of their education, health and long term prospects. Child spouses are vulnerable to domestic violence and sexual abuse within relationships that are unequal.
Their health also suffers because their bodies are not ready for child bearing and there are often complications during pregnancy and childbirth.
This is a vicious cycle and girls affected by child marriage get trapped into a spiral of poverty, exploitation and marginalisation.
So there is quite a lot of work still to be done, primarily in prevention and mitigation of reasons that lead to child marriage.
Institutions and society need to do more to ensure that there is awareness of the consequences of child marriage, we need to go into communities where this occurs and explain.
There is also a need to work directly with children situations.
We need to find ways to stimulate families to keep girls in school.
Early marriage does not solve economic problems, but good education and a job do.
In courts, child's best interest should be the core element to be assessed and reflected when decision is made, not those "important reasons".
It is encouraging to see here today collaboration between civil society, experts from academia and government institutions working together.
This is exactly how we should join forces and fight something that is hurting our children and our society, and belongs to some long gone times.