Members of the Commonwealth Forum of National Human Rights Institutions have committed to working with civil societies and parliaments in an effort to fight against early and forced marriages.
This is part of the measures adopted at the closure of a meeting in Kigali on Thursday that discussed ways of addressing this rising threat to girls and women’s rights.
The delegates, in what is dubbed the Kigali Declaration issued at the end of the meeting, agreed to develop practical action plans for national institutions that will lead in efforts to address early and forced marriages.
They called for collaboration and capacity building of national institutions to handle complaints and conduct investigations of such crimes.
Officials citing a 2013 report by Plan International said, unless something is done over the next decade, 140 million girls under 18 years of age will be forced to marry without their consent and that half of these girls live in Commonwealth member states.
At least 700 million girls under 18 years of age, mainly from sub-Saharan countries, face a threat of being forced into early marriage, according to a UNICEF report of 2014.
The threat impedes girls and women’s enjoyment of their rights to education, employment, and sexual and reproductive health all of which undermines global development efforts, the forum noted.
The commissioners also committed to conduct human rights education to increase awareness, research and gather latest data to inform policy makers on the right strategy to stem the vices.
Madeleine Nirere, the chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission, said the measures were adopted after participants had discussed various best practices.
They committed to collaborate in developing capacities of professionals working in health, education, law enforcement, justice, and child welfare as part of efforts to address the problem.
The commissioners called for dialogue and collaboration with local, traditional and religious leaders as well as promotion of compulsory quality education for all children under the age of 16 to stem the vices.
The resolutions will be discussed in November in Malta during the Commonwealth Heads of State and Government Meeting (CHOGM).
“Rwanda has embraced Education for All which has reduced early marriages by increasing the number of girls in school. The resolutions also look at promoting compulsory quality education for all children under the age of 16, including human rights education,” Nirere explained.
Nirere added that the resolutions would be incorporated into the post-Millennium development goals agenda on child and female rights.
The meeting was organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Rwanda National Commission for Human Rights, and among others.