"Along with challenging the non-implementation of the law [prohibiting child marriage], we decided to approach the court on various aspects that lead to child marriage or result from child marriage." Kranti L. Chinnappa
Panel Discussion: Spotlight on Progress "Can Better Legislation and Successful Prosecutions Help End FGM and Child, Early and Forced Marriage?"
Context: This presentation is from one of the 14 "Spotlights on Progress" video-recorded sessions from the Girl Summit 2014, London, United Kingdom (UK). The sessions were organised to share best practice between practitioners, grassroots activists, and government ministers across the issues of female genital mutilation (FGM) (also FGM/C - female genital mutilation/cutting) and child, early, and forced marriage (CEFM). Girl Summit is a project of the Department for International Development (DFID), UK.
From the conference outline document: "Effective legislation and its implementation require the sensitive involvement of many actors, including governments at all levels, traditional and faith leaders, civil society and communities. Join us as we explore the pathways to ending FGM and child, early and marriage through legal reform, promotion of child rights, and the role of prosecutors in order to achieve lasting change for girls and women."
Profile of speaker: A featured panelist of this Spotlight session was Kranti L. Chinnappa, Executive Director, Human Rights Law Network (HRLN), whose presentation was entitled "Legal initiatives to strengthen the implementation of laws to prevent child marriage, India". From the conference documentation: "The Human Rights Law Network is a collective of lawyers and social activists who use the legal system to advance human rights in India and the sub-continent. Kranti will discuss HRLN’s use of Public Interest Cases in the Supreme Court of India and various High Courts, on issues affecting children. Unlike western legal systems, Indian jurisprudence allows the use of the law on behalf of a class of people, who may not be able to access the legal system. Their petition on child marriage filed in the Supreme Court, contributed to the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCM Act) in 2006. As a result of the Supreme Court’s order, all state governments must register marriages and report to the court on the status of child marriages in their respective states. HRLN has also filed a subsequent Public Interest Litigation in the state of Jharkhand in 2013, which asks the state government to implement the PCM Act, and ties child marriage to reproductive rights violations."
Strategy overview: Among Mr. Chinnappa's comments: "The HRLN uses public interest litigation to strengthen the laws around CEFM in India. Within the Indian legal system, public interest litigation [a way that the court can be approached on behalf of a group of people] is the means by which HRLN is able to petition both the High Courts and Supreme Courts for the enforcement of the fundamental rights of the [economically] poor; similarly, the courts themselves are able to act on an issue without a petition being filed. [The first public interest litigation in 2003 (still pending) put the courts and legislature on notice that they needed to act.] This has resulted in significant improvements in terms of the courts’ ability to address this issue - for example, in 2006, courts became legally empowered to nullify child marriages. [Either party in the marriage could approach the court for nullification and compensation. However, it did not hold police or the courts accountable for the implementation of the law.] Local police and courts now have the power to file cases of CEFM with the Supreme Court, while police officers are now formally responsible for preventing and reporting on CEFM, [including cases dating back to 2005]."
A series of litigations on reproductive rights and access to health services is pending in various Superior Courts across the country and include possible strategies on CEFM prevention. While the law recognises those under 18 as children, the Right to Education Act allows for free education up to age 14; so, HRLN has filed to lift the age of free education to 18 - tying the challenge to the issue of child marriage. "The HRLN takes a holistic approach in its efforts to tackle CEFM, particularly through campaigning around education and reproductive health rights. For the former, HRLN has been leading a campaign to increase the compulsory age of girls’ education to 18, with a view to ensuring girls remain in an environment through which they can access support networks and referral systems."
The litigations referred to above take on various government departments, but litigation may take on all departments together, which forces them to coordinate on issues. In addition, by taking cases to courts at all levels, there is the opportunity to train the judiciary on the issues of concern. What has not been done for educating the judiciary is to bring survivors of child marriage to the courtroom, a strategy that Mr. Chinnappa is taking back to India from the Summit.
Overview of this Summit Session: From the Girl Summit summary document: "New and traditional media, brand platforms and communications strategies are proven tools that have triggered discussions and shifted perceptions. Speakers will give examples of how these tools are being used to change how girls see themselves and are perceived in their communities, as well to elevate the dialogue on key issues to national levels and beyond."
The speakers for this session are:
Alison Saunders CB Director of Public Prosecutions for England and Wales.
Kranti L. Chinnappa Executive Director, Human Rights Law Network (HRLN).
Dr. Tabinda Sarosh Programme Director, Shirkat Gah.
Her Excellency Camara Sanaba Kaba Minister for Social Action and Promotion of Women and Children, Government of Guinea.
Her Excellency Hooria Mashhour Minister of Human Rights, Government of Yemen.
The session is chaired by Ikenna Azuike is a former lawyer and the founder of What's Up Africa, an ...internet programme about African news, initiatives and people. He is also the founder of Strawberry Earth, a foundation devoted to promoting awareness about sustainability."
Footage of this (available below) and other "Spotlights" are available on DFID’s YouTube channel.
The Girl Summit is a project of DFID. Click here and scroll down to see the full list of individuals and organisations committed to working on girls' issues, as well as a list of Girl Summit Charter signatories.
DFID Girl Summit Outcomes website, accessed on August 18 2015. Image credit: Stephanie Sinclair