THE EMPOWERMENT OF WOMEN AND THE LEGAL PROTECTION AGAINST EARLY MARRIAGE IN CAMEROON
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Despite international agreements and national laws, marriage of girls below 18 years of age is
common worldwide and affects millions. Child marriage, defined as marriage of a child below 18
years of age is an ancient worldwide custom and other terms applied to child marriage inclusively
“early marriage” and “child brides.”
Child marriage is a human rights violation that prevents girls from obtaining an education, enjoying
optimal health, bonding with others their own age, maturing, and ultimately choosing their own life
partners. Child marriage is driven by customs, poverty, religious beliefs, security of the child to
mentions just a few. This thesis therefore seeks to depict the drivers of child marriages in the North,
Far-north and South-west pointing out also the effects on girls’ health: increased risk for sexually
transmitted diseases, death during childbirth, and obstetric fistulas, school dropout, domestic
violence, child sexual abuse and poverty.
Critical issues are the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS among young people; childbearing by young
girls, which can lead to obstetric fistulas and death of the mother; and child marriage Girls’ offspring
are at increased risk for premature birth and death as neonates, infants, or children.
To stop child marriage, this study points out possible strategies or policies and programs to foster
empowerment for women that must be implemented like educating communities, raising awareness
through NGOs and relevant line government ministries, engage local and religious leaders, involve
parents, in the empowerment of girls through education and employment programs.
Also the awareness of reproductive health issues in most affected areas in the Country is of
paramount importance to combat the problem of child marriage
Early marriage is also known as child marriage which refers to a marriage before the ages of 18
years. It is common in rural communities. Although marriage in an early age for young women had
been in practice long before the British era, such a practice became more common amongst the
Muslims and Hindu communities in the world.Early or Child marriage is a long-term cultural and
traditional practice in these communities and is as a result of patriarchal social structure,
conservative social values and extreme poverty which have fostered this practice. That is young
women/girls, are widely misconceived as financial burdens of their families, receive less health care
and education since their birth and also, noticing the factor of dowry payment as an incentive for
marrying off their daughters and this is known to incure sanctions as it is known to be a violation of
these young women‘s rights as presented by the report of UNICEF Innocenti research.
International Conventions like the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
(CEDAW) defines marriage as a formalized, binding relationship between consenting adults that is
individuals aged 18 and above of full maturity and capacity to act, with legal or social standing to
which sexual relations are legitimized as an arena of reproduction and child rearing which has state
recognition. CEDAW in its article 18 shall ensure the elimination of all sort of discrimination
against women and also ensure the protection of the right of the women and the child as stipulated in
international declaration and conventions. (Article 18) fights against violations and recommend the
minimum age for marriages which is 18 for men and 16 for women. But the focus is women
marrying under the ages of 16 which are contracted as early female marriage and the outcome of this
is that, these young women who give birth before the ages of 16 remain poorer which not the case is
for aged women.1
In Cameroon as presented by the report of the United Nation Human Rights
1Mohammed Jamjoom, www.edition.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/meast/04/14/saudi.cchild.marriage/index.html (accessed
April 20, 2009) Ibid ‗
UNICEF ‗deeply concerned‘ about the marriage of 18 year old. April 14th 2009‘The UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre
explains that ‗poverty is one of the major factors underpinning early marriage‘ as an impoverished family may regard a
young girl as an economic burden , the United Convention on the Rights of a Child 1989 in its Article 1 provides civil
status law for both boys and girls 18 years and under to get married.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) adopted General Recommendation 19
in which it states that early marriage is confirmed as violence against women which constitutes a violation of human
rights because marriage must be attained by age of 18years
Committee 2009, rightly points out that marriage should be a legal union between two consent adults
irrespective of whether it is traditional, civil or religious.
Although later amendments have been made as early marriage is concerned provided by the
Convention on the Rights of a Child 1989 in its Article 1 provides civil status law for both boy and
girls 18 years and under to get married, but these provisions in section 52(4) of the Cameroonian
code laws were ratify on early marriage which has been viewed as a violations based on certain
As stipulated in Section 356 of the Cameroon penal code; whoever compels anyone to marry under
mitigating circumstance such as without either of the party consent and under the age of 18years
shall be punished with imprisonment from 5-10 years and fine payment of 25000-100000 frs and the
guardianship or parental power can be averted.
2However in accordance to section 31 (4) of the
Cameroon penal code marriage must be celebrated under consent of the parties involved and section
65 of the code provides marriage would not be accepted under force consent or duress.
The Civil Status Registration Ordinance No. 81 – 02 of 29 June 1981, in its general provisions
Section (1): This ordinance shall govern the legal registration of births, marriages and deaths in the
United Republic of Cameroon.
Section (2): It shall lay down the conditions of validity of civil status certificates and certain
provisions relating to the status of natural persons.
Birth, marriage and death certificates shall be intangible and final documents, and may be rectified
after signature only under conditions laid down by the law.
Section (3): Apart from the entries provided for in this Ordinance, entries to be made on civil status
certificates shall be laid down by decree.
Section 4 (1) Every Cameroonian residing in Cameroon shall, under pain of the penalties provided
for in Section 370 of the Penal Code, be bound to declare to the competent civil status registrar of his
area births, deaths and marriages concerning him and taking place or celebrated in Cameroon.
Section (48): A marriage shall be celebrated by a civil status registrar of the place of birth or
residence of one of the spouse to be.
Section (49): The marriage certificate shall specify the following:
Convention on the Rights of a Child 1989 in its Article 1 provides civil status law for both boy and girls 18 years and
under to get married, but these provisions in section 52(4) of the Cameroonian code laws were ratify on early marriage
which has been viewed as a violations based on certain circumstances.
Civil Status Registration Ordinance No. 81 – 02 of 29 June 1981(Extract of the O.G. the U.R.C No. 14 of 1 August 1981
-the name of the civil status centre;
-the full name, date and place of birth, residence and occupation of the spouses;
-the consent of each of the spouses;
-the consent of the parent in case of minor children;
-the full names of the witnesses;
-the date and place of celebration of the marriage;
-where applicable, the mention of the existence of a marriage contract: co-ownership or separation of
-the mention of the type of marriage chosen: polygamy or monogamy;
– the full name of the civil status registrar
-the signatures of the spouses, witnesses and the civil status registrar.
Section 50: (1) Mention of the marriage shall be made in the margin of the birth certificate of each of
the spouses in compliance with Article 19 above and on the initiative of the competent civil status
(2) Failure to forward copy or notice of such registration shall be punishable by a fine of 500 francs
pronounced by the competent state counsel.
Section 51: In case of divorce, mention of it shall be made on the birth and marriage certificates of
the spouses on the initiative of the Legal Department.
Section (52): No marriage may be celebrated:
(1) If the girl is a minor of 15 years old or the boy of 18 years old, unless for serious reasons a
waiver has been granted by the President of the Republic.
(2) If such marriage is not preceded by a publication of banns
(3) If the spouses-to-be are of the same sex.
(4) If the spouses-to-be do not consent.
(5) If one of the spouses-to-be is deceased, unless a waiver has been granted by the President of the
Republic under the conditions laid down in Article 67 hereafter. The Nation shall protect and
promote the family which is the natural foundation of human society. That is it shall provide social
protection women, the young, the elderly and the disabled provide that proved to be harmful to them.
1.1) BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY
In Cameroon early marriage still lingers on especially in patriarchal societies, which is characterized
by social norms dominance that coerce their daughters or young women to succumb to the pressure
of early marriage as a means to prove their worth within their household. This affects the
empowerment of such young women as they are deprived of schooling as a verible engine for
development and empowerment.
Early marriage is associated with childbearing and higher fertility rate of which it is detrimental as
well, whereby early marriages limits female schooling opportunities as girls are taken out of school
in order to dedicate their time to domestic, marital and maternal duties.
Also, these young women have little decision making power in the household with a greater
likelihood of suffering domestic violence which was observed by the United Nation‘s Population
The population of Cameroon is now made up of more than 230 ethnic groups defined on the basis of
dialect and belonging to three broad cultural communities: – the Bantus of the South, Littoral, SouthWest, Centre and East provinces; – the semi-Bantus of the West and North-West provincesthe
Sudanese of the province of Adamaoua and the North and Far North provinces. The pygmies, who
are not included in this broad classification, live in the Centre, South and East provinces. Far from
being a source of conflict and divisiveness, this ethnic diversity is regarded by government and
people as mutually enriching.
The population of Cameroon is estimated to number 13,650,000 (projections based on the general
census of 1987) and the economy is mainly based on the primary sector. Almost 75 per cent of the
economically active population is employed in agriculture, in the broad sense of the term.
Agriculture more or less enables the country to feed itself, generates about one third of hard-currency
earnings and 15 per cent of government revenue, and contributes 24 per cent to the GDP. The tertiary
sector employs 20 per cent of the active population, while the industrial sector is still in the
embryonic stage. Many women find employment in the informal sector. Cameroon became a unitary
State. Under the Constitution of 18 January 1996, Cameroon is a democratic decentralized unitary
State with a semi-presidential form of government. There is separation of the executive, legislative
and judicial powers.
The Constitution of Cameroon guarantees the protection of human rights since it enshrines the basic
principles which underlie the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, namely, the equality of men
and women, offences and punishments to be strictly defined by law, non-retrospective effect of the
law. Moreover, it accords to the people of Cameroon the various fundamental freedoms (of the press
of expression, of worship). Moreover, it is explicitly stated in the Preamble to the Constitution that
(UNFPA, 2012; Greene, 2014). https://www.alignplatform.org/resources/2019/04/socialgender-norms-and-childmarriage suggest Young wives’ low status in their marital households can subject them to limited opportunities, long
hours of labour, social isolation, physical, sexual, and emotional violence, the risks related to early pregnancy, and
having little say over anything that affects them (Garcia-Moreno et al., 2005).
the law shall ensure the right of everyone to a fair hearing in strict compliance with the rights of
defence (presumption of innocence).
The criminal law applies to all. Everyone has the right of recourse to the competent national courts to
seek an effective remedy against acts that violate the fundamental rights accorded to him or her by
the laws in force. Thus, any victim of an act that violates his or her rights has a triple right of action:
– proceedings in the criminal courts for application of the penalties laid down for any offence; –
proceedings for damages in the civil courts; – proceedings in the administrative courts to have an
administrative act that violates a right declared invalid or set aside.
Many customary practices have unfavourable consequences for women: – early and forced
marriages; – obstacles to the exercise of traditional authority by women; – sexual abuse; – female
genital mutilation; – abusive widowhood rites; – food taboos and prohibitions; – the subjection of
women in matters of reproductive health; – physical violence and mental cruelty; – obstacles to
succession; – levirate, a practice which is dying out.
In Cameroon, early marriage is in fact illegal, for which the maximum age is 18 years inline with
CEDAW‘s Convention. Although ‗early‘ is not explicitly defined to mean less than 18 years old, it is
frequently found in that context, for instance, uses the term ‗early marriage‘ consistently, and its
stated goal is to prevent marriage before the age of 18. UNICEF‘s publication ―Early Marriage: A
Harmful Traditional Practice‖ measures the ―proportion of women aged 20–24 married by the exact
age of 18,‖i
in fact, most organizations that collect data on early marriage use the under-18
benchmark. The Convention on the Rights of the Child General Comment 4, which uses only ‗early
marriage‘ and never ‗child marriage,‘ notes that:
In some states parties, married children are legally considered adults, even if they are under 18,
depriving them of all the special protection measures they are entitled under the Convention.
The Committee strongly recommends that States parties review and, where necessary, reform their
legislation and practice to increase the minimum age for marriage with and without parental consent
to 18 years, for both girls and boys
However, the penal code of Cameroon further states that marriage must involve the consent of both
parties and must be recognized by an official certificate. But in practice, the law fails to protect most
of these young girls or women from been a subject of early marriages particularly in the Far North
Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 (UK), s 63A. In the seven months to July 2009, 36 orders were reported to
have been made: see D. Casciani, ‘Forced Marriage Plea to Schools’ BBC News 2 July 2009 at
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/8129466.stm (last visited 13 July 2009)
Young women or girls who grow up in the Far North region and some other parts of Cameroon turn
to marry early as a result of being subject to the context of poverty, as parents see schooling for their
daughters as prohibitory cost and also view them as a burden to be relief by marrying them off in
exchange for financial returns as bride price payment from their son-in-laws. This leaves them in
disadvantageous positions within the society as their dreams and aspirations of their lives have been
cut short.In this region, statistics which have shown close to 20-29 women have been subjected to
early marriages under the ages of 16 and has caused them to liable to violations and commonly find
themselves in polygamous marriages, that is when these young women or girls are married they are
married off to older men who are married already or have previous wives.5
This list of harmful acts
and practices could not, by any reasonable analysis, be read to include only marriages that are both
early and forced, and not to include marriages that are forced but not early, or marriages that are
early but not forced. In this context, the term ‗early and forced marriage‘ encompasses a situation in
which a 23-year-old woman is physically or psychologically compelled into marriage, and a
situation in which a 14-year-old girl ‗consented‘ to marriage before she was physically and
psychologically ready to do so. Both situations embody ―discriminatory and harmful acts and
practices that are violent towards women.‖
In such cases, the term ‗early or forced marriage,‘ or alternatively, ‗early marriage‘ could be seen as
violations of the young women‘s and girls right to health occur as a result of high rates of sexual
violence, among other forms of violence, that take place in early and forced marriages, complications
arising from early pregnancy and childbirth, barriers to accessing comprehensive health services and
information, including sexual and reproductive health information and services, stigma and
discrimination, among others. Norms and social barriers create situations in which married young
women and girls are unable to make autonomous decisions within relationships, freely express their
sexualities, exert control over their reproductive lives, make free and informed decisions regarding ifand when to have children, access services and information and decide freely if and when, and with
whom, to enter into relationships. This creates barriers to married young women and girls‘ access to
modern methods of contraception, safe abortion services, effective Sexually Transmitted Infection
Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 (UK). Scotland is currently considering whether to pass similar legislation:
see Scottish Government, ‘Forced Marriage: A Civil Remedy? Consultation Paper’ (2008). Criminal charges under
general law are still possible. In 2009 a three year gaol sentence was imposed by Manchester Crown Court on a mother
who forced her 14 and 15 year old daughters to marry (the charges were inciting or causing a child to engage in sexual
activity, arranging or facilitating the commission of a child sexual offence and intending to pervert the course of justice):
P. Bainbridge, ‘Mother jailed over forced marriages’ Manchester Evening News, 20 May 2009; J. Narain
(Under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: Cameroon, Initial
Periodic Report of States Parties, CEDAW/C/CMR/1, CEDAW, New York, NY. Center for Reproductive Rights. 2003.
Women of the World – Laws and Policies Affecting Their Reproductive Lives, Center for Reproductive Law and Policy,
New York, NY. pp. 66-88.
prevention methods, among other information and services related to their sexual and reproductive
health. Such inequalities are often rooted in harmful cultural and religious traditions that render it
permissible to restrict young women and girls‘ autonomy, agency and well-being. These young
women who marry early eventually loss their independence in many forms such as financial
independence as it becomes difficult to engage in labour force activities while joggling household
duties, also as many will stop furthering their level of educational attainment. They also loss their
freedom to the outside world and engage less, while some are secluded in isolation subjecting them
to depression , emotional trauma. At the regional level, Cameroon is a State Party to the African
Charter on Human and People‘s Rights (ACHPR). This Charter, mirroring other international human
rights instruments, protects all individuals against violence including torture or cruel, inhuman or
degrading treatments and provides for the promotion of gender equality.
Thus, article 2 of the Charter states that ―Every individual shall be entitled to the enjoyment of the
rights and freedoms recognized and guaranteed in the present Charter without distinction of any kind
such as … sex,‖Article 3 guarantees that all are ―equal before the law‖ and that everyone is ―entitled
to equal protection of the law‖.
Article 4 protects each human being‘s right to life and to physical and moral integrity followed by
article 5 which forbids physical or psychological torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment
The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights constitutes the first international instrument to
detail the rights and freedoms of individuals, and contains 30 articles covering the integrity of the
individual, political and civil rights
(such as freedom of thought, expression, religion, association and access to the political process) and
economic rights (such as the right to employment, education, social security, and full participation in
society). Echoing to the Charter of the United Nations which encourages respect for human rights
and fundamental freedoms for all people ―without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion”.
Robert Jenson and Rebecca Thornton, ‗Early female marriage in the developing world‘. Gender and Development. Vol.
11 No. 2 (2003): 12. Notable exceptions are Turkey and Egypt where the average age has increased
Violence Against Women: 10 Reports / Year 2003
The ACHPR in its Article 4 protects each human being‘s right to life and to physical and moral integrity followed by
article 5 which forbids physical or psychological torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Article 18(3) provides that States Parties shall ensure the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women as
well as protection for the rights of women ―as stipulated in international declarations and conventions.
Bryant, Elizabeth. “German Activist Puts a Face on Issues Plaguing Muslim Women” Religion News Service (5 June
2006). This article discusses Seyran Ates, a women’s rights lawyer in Berlin. A recent German law now makes forced
marriage a criminal offence. 2. Dethloff, Sigrid. “The struggle against forced marriage” (22 April 2004), online:
Early marriage is specifically recognized as an abuse of human rights in many United Nations
treaties and other international documents.
Child marriage is also recognized as an abuse of human rights in numerous treaties, and overlaps
with forced marriage because minors are deemed incapable of giving informed consent. As a party to
many of these treaties, Canada has an international obligation to address the issue of forced marriage,
and to ensure that a prerequisite for all marriages within its jurisdiction is the free and informed
consent of both parties.
• Common law courts have established that duress in forced marriage cases does not have to be
confined to physical coercion, and can also include emotional pressure. However, parental pressure
will not necessarily amount to duress in all situations because valid consent can be ―reluctant‖ or
―resentful‖. What matters is whether the will of the individual has been overborne by the pressure. If
this is the case, the marriage is not founded on the free and informed consent of both parties.
• The research on the UK initiatives appears the most useful for Canada to determine possible routes
which can be taken in the future due to the similarities and close ties between the two countries, as
well as the depth to which the UK has gone in investigating the issue.
The British government has demonstrated its commitment to combat the issue by creating a joint
team between the Foreign Commonwealth and Home Offices to address forced marriage.
There has been conducted research and consultations, proposed legislation, compiled statistics, and
arranged support and rescue operations for victims of violations.
• Other countries have implemented various measures in an attempt to address the practice of forced
marriages. Some of these measures include:
• Introducing legislation to criminalize the practice (Norway, Belgium);
• revising existing offences to criminalize activities associated with forced marriage (Australia,
•Raising the minimum age of marriage (France, Gabon, Indonesia, UK)
•Tightening immigration laws (Denmark).
There are also a wide variety of support and awareness programs in place for victims. By studying
the public response to these initiatives, as well as their impacts, Canada can make a more informed
decision about its own preferred action plan.
The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples‘ Rights on the Rights of Women in
Africa, popularly known as the Maputo Protocol was adopted in 2003 and came into force in 2005.
41 countries have ratified it as at early 2018. The African Commission on Human and Peoples‘
Rights oversees implementation of the Maputo Protocol.
The Maputo Protocol is elaborate in its protection of women and includes all categories of rights
drafted from a women‘s rights perspective. A snapshot of the Maputo Protocol is provided here
under key themes: Equality & non-discrimination
• Elimination of discrimination (article 2)
• Access to justice, including legal aid and the training of law enforcement officials (article 8) •
Political participation and decision-making (article 9)
• Education (article 12) Protection against violence
• Bodily integrity and dignity, including sexual violence, trafficking of women and medical and
scientific experimentation (article 3 and 4)
• Practices harmful to women, including female genital mutilation (article 5).
• Gender stereotypes (article 4(2), (c) and (d))8
• Marriage and its effect on property relations, nationality, name (article 6(e) to (j))
• Minimum age of marriage (article 6(b))
• Registration of marriages (article 6(d))
• Protection of women in polygamous marriages (article 6(c))
• Protection of women during separation, divorce or annulment of marriage (article 7)
• Protection of children in the family (article 6(i)
The African Commission has however established the mandate of a Special Rapporteur on the
Rights of Women in Africa (SRRWA) Inform and engages with the SRRWA on high-level advocacy
and in the event of serious or massive violations of women‘s rights. Submit communications (cases)
of women‘s rights violations. These can be submitted where local remedies have been exhausted or
are unduly prolonged.
Population Council (2011). When Girls‘ Lives Matter: Ending Forced and Early Marriage in Cameroon.[Online].
Avalable: http://www.popcouncil.org/pdfs/qcq/QCQ20.pdf. Http://Www.Popcouncil.Org.
the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples‘ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa was adopted by the
Assembly of the African Union Summit. The Protocol will complement the African Charter in ensuring the promotion
and protection of the human rights of women in Africa. Its provisions include the right to life, integrity and security of
person, right to participation in the political and decision making process, protection of women against harmful
traditional practices and protection of women in armed conflict.
An-Na’im, Abdullahi. “Forced Marriage” (2000), online: CIMEL/INTERIGHTS Forced Marriage Project
1.2) STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM