Prevalence of child marriage in the Roma population

07 December 2017
Child marriage conference with the publication on the table
UNICEF Serbia/2017/Prohaska

Belgrade, 7 December 2017 – Child marriage is present among the general population in Serbia, often in the poorest communities and rural areas.

This practice, however, is widespread in Roma communities, where more than half of girls marry before turning 18, show the results of the “Child marriage among the Roma population in Serbia” ethnographic research presented today by UNICEF, the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts’ Institute of Ethnography, and the Roma Women's Center BIBIJA.

“Marrying before the age of 18 represents a serious violation of human rights and affects the rights of girls and women to health, education, equality, and life without violence. Child marriage affects not only girls, but also has severe consequences for society as a whole - loss in earnings and productivity, increased health care costs due to poor maternal and child health, and higher expenditure for social benefits due to the inter-generational cycle of poverty,” said Michel Saint-Lot, UNICEF Representative in Serbia.

The marginalisation of the Roma, accepted cultural, religious and social practices based on stereotypes of sexuality and the role of women in society, poverty, and inadequate institutional responses, including inefficient enforcement of existing laws all contribute to the prevalence of child marriage.

“The problem of child marriages and its consequences represent an extremely important social and national issue that requires the engagement of all stakeholders. The results presented in this report indicate that only such an approach can contribute to combating this practice. At the same time, this report is an example of how partnership between international organisations, the non-governmental sector, and scientific institutions can contribute to resolving social issues, and represents a model for further work in the future, with the engagement from other stakeholders, above all state institutions. This report is the first, but very important step in that direction,” said Prof Dr Ljiljana Gavrilovic, Principal Research Fellow at the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts’ Institute of Ethnography.

The material for the “Child marriage among the Roma population” study was obtained by a qualitative research method, with the aim of providing insight into the child marriage practice from the perspective of Roma community members, based on their experiences, values, and opinions on the issue.

The field research was conducted in five locations in Serbia from March to June 2017: Belgrade, Novi Becej, Vranje, Pirot, and Kragujevac.

“The issues of child marriage and childbirth at an early age are of no special interest to health, social welfare, or education institutions. There is not enough data on the prevalence of this practice, which makes creating public policies in this area difficult. The experiences of Roma women's organisations testify to the high resistance shown by the Roma community in relation to this issue. Working in the field with Roma women, by means of women's workshops, yield the best results in achieving an improvement in the level of awareness about the harmfulness of child marriages to the reproductive and mental health of women, and raises awareness levels about other harmful consequences of child marriages, such as early school leaving, poor employment opportunities, and economic dependence,” said Slavica Vasic, Managing Director of the Roma Women's Center BIBIJA.

If we want to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 and ensure respect for the human rights of girls and women, we must act now and end the practice of child marriage.

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