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Ending the practice of early marriages through the strengthening of cross-sectoral cooperation

PODGORICA, 23 February 2018 – According to the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey on the rights of women and children in Montenegro, published in 2013 by MONSTAT and with UNICEF support, one in three of all Roma or Egyptian girls aged 15–19 entered marriage or a marital union, while one in six Roma or Egyptian boys did the same.

Although Montenegrin legislation prohibits early marriages, many such cases have gone unpunished.


The Executive Coordinator in the NGO “Centre for Roma Initiatives” Fana Delija speaking at the conference on the occasion of the presentation of a survey entitled “Preventing Early Marriages in Montenegro: Challenges, Lessons Learned and a Theory for Change” in Podgorica in February 2018 - UNICEF Montenegro / Dusko Miljanic / 2018

Fana Delija, the Executive Coordinator in the NGO “Centre for Roma Initiatives”, explains that 49 marriages were prevented through the efforts of this organization in the period between 2015 and 2017. However, according to her, these cases have not received closure in court due to a lack of evidence.

“Every contracted marriage implies money being received for the bride and, if the perpetrator goes unpunished, we are sending a message to the community that contracted marriages are stronger than the law,” Delija stated at a conference on the occasion of the presentation of a survey entitled “Preventing Early Marriages in Montenegro: Challenges, Lessons Learned and a Theory for Change”.

Ida Ferdinandi, Child Protection Officer at UNICEF Montenegro Office, pointed to the need for a comprehensive, coordinated approach in combating early marriages: “Successful strategies to combat early marriages include empowerment of girls, access to education and other services, community mobilization with the goal of changing social norms and improving the economic situation of girls and their families, as well as improving the legal and political environment and evidence base.”

It was also stated at the conference that the legal and institutional framework for the prevention of early marriages in Montenegro constituted a good starting point for intensifying and improving further efforts in this area.

Dragan Pejanović, the State Secretary in the Ministry of Interior, explained that the newly established Operational Team for Combating Domestic Violence and Violence against Women and Children would also be tackling the issue of early marriages.

“Through cooperation with other institutions, we will especially strive to raise awareness about the rights of the child, the unlawfulness of forced and contracted marriages and punishment of those who conclude them, aimed at finding solutions to adequately protect the victims,” Pejanović said.

Nada Drobnjak, the President of the Parliamentary Committee on Gender Equality in the Parliament of Montenegro, said that every individual has the responsibility to oppose the tradition of contracted marriages:

“We can call the story of early, forced marriages a story of stolen childhoods, and by failing to invest efforts to prevent this phenomenon, we are allowing a bad tradition to steal away the lives of many young people.”


UNICEF Montenegro Representative Osama Khogali speaking at the conference on the occasion of the presentation of a survey entitled “Preventing Early Marriages in Montenegro: Challenges, Lessons Learned and a Theory for Change” in Podgorica in February 2018 - UNICEF Montenegro / Dusko Miljanic / 2018

Osama Khogali, the UNICEF Representative to Montenegro, said that addressing the issue of early marriages requires the identification of the factors contributing to the persistence of this practice: “These include economic, structural and social factors, such as social norms and gender inequality. Early marriages in Montenegro exist mainly in Roma and Egyptian communities. In fact, it can be said that the presence of early marriages is an obvious example of the development gap between the majority population and Roma and Egyptians”.

In order to improve the socio-economic position of this community, the government has developed the Strategy for the Social Inclusion of Roma and Egyptians for the period 2016–2020, which, inter alia, addresses the issue of early marriages.

Plamena Halacheva, a representative of the Delegation of the European Union to Montenegro, praised the efforts made so far by Montenegro to combat early marriages, stressing that implementation of stronger measures that would contribute to halting the problem was expected in the future.

The presented survey was conducted within the framework of the programme entitled “Coordinated Action to Combat Violence and Early Marriages in the Roma and Egyptian Community”, implemented by the Centre for Roma Initiatives, in partnership with the UNICEF Country Office in Montenegro and with the financial support of the European Union.

 

 
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