Child widows

Child widows exist! There are at least a million and a half of them. They are girls given into marriage at a young age and whose husband died, either of illness or violence or conflict.

Mohinder Watson, a colleague in Geneva for the ICW, wrote probably the first report about them. She is the driving force behind Action on Child, Early and Forced Marriage. In her work for this NGO she came across an even sadder kind of girl: the Child Widow.

Child widows – young girls who have suffered both child marriage and widowhood before the age of eighteen – are a neglected group of vulnerable children, They have experienced multiple violations of their human rights from their premature and unlawful marriage to the compounded effects of widowhood, poverty, illiteracy, youth and lack of education. Mostly they lack access to justice and are unable to claim their inheritance as they are unknowledgable about the law or manipulated by others. Upon the death of their husbands, many are evicted from their homes and left destitute, some bound by cultural traditions never to remarry.

Mohinder Watson undertook research about what these children need and how they can be supported.

The first thing they need is recognition of their existence, to be nationally and internationally on the agenda. Another important thing is play and contact with other girls.

In the last session of the Human Rights Council a resolution about the consequences of child, early and forced marriages was adopted without a vote. Resolution A-HRC-41-L.8-Rev.1 in its operational paragraph 17 Calls upon States, (…………)

‘to support girls and women who are affected or at risk, who have fled such a marriage or whose marriage has dissolved, and widowed girls or women who were married as girls, including through the strengthening of child protection systems, protection mechanisms such as safe shelters, access to justice, the sharing of best practices across borders and the collection of relevant, reliable and disaggregated data‘

This seems to be the first time that child widows are mentioned in a UN document.

Mohinder Watson, PhD MPH, founder of Action on Child, Early and Forced Marriage is the author of the report.