From: Alice Taylor
UNFPA: End Child Marriage and Treat Women and Girls Equally

The two regional directors for the United Nations Population Fund in the Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Asia Pacific region have called for an end to child marriage Albania and other countries where it is prevalent.

According to Alanna Armitage and Bjorn Andersson, the rate of child marriage in Eastern Europe is 12%. This widespread practice in countries such as Georgia, Turkey, and Albania needs to stop.

While Albania has a strong legislative framework designed to tackle child marriage, research has shown that the laws are not consistently or effectively implemented. Official data from 2017 indicated that 16.9% of marriages took place involving a female under the age of 19. Only 0.5% involved a male under the same age. 

It was noted that these figures do not include unregistered marriage, meaning that the prevalence of such arrangements is unknown. The UN stated that rates of child marriage are much higher in Roma communities but there is no accurate data available.

Unicef found that “child marriage in Albania seems to be linked to restrictive gender norms, poverty, and social exclusion”. Features of child marriage in the country include school dropout, early motherhood, lack of autonomy, and no decision-making power in the household. The concept of the child’s “honour” was also noted as a key reason why communities push for child marriage.

Other issues raised in the opinion piece by the UNFPA directors include forced marriage, lack of access to sexual and reproductive health care, and gender-biased selection of boys over girls. This they said is found all over the world, including the Balkans and contributes to the demographic crisis of an estimated 140 million “missing girls”, globally. 

The Directors said that while some legislation has been passed, we as a society need to do much more. An upcoming UNFPA report, Against Her Will, will focus on harmful practices globally and offer urgent recommendations to tackle them.

They also stated that society needs to recognise that these are all human rights violations and should not be excuses because they are traditional or cultural practices. At the heart of the issue, they said, is the fact that we need to strive for gender equality.

“The low value of girls and women is what underpins harmful practices globally…We must stop treating girls and women like commodities to be traded, or objects to be controlled, and afford them the same rights and opportunities as boys and men,” they wrote.