Marriage, as well as living in an informal community between and with persons under 18, can be noticed for years, as a phenomenon which directly undermines the process of education of minors, limits the opportunities for their social integration, causes danger of health distortions and creates gender inequality. Different terms are used, such as under-age marriage, early marriage, etc., but because under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, “a child is any person under 18 years” taking into consideration the age limit, the term child marriage is selected to be used as most appropriate.

A general problem in assessing the prevalence of child marriages, is that many of them are not registered and official and therefore not considered as part of the standard system for data collection. Currently, there is a serious shortage of analytical and statistical information on all aspects. Very often child marriages, especially among the Roma population, are seen as part of the tradition of certain social groups and are not properly sanctioned, much less prevented.

The issue of child marriages has almost never been put as a priority for action, but given the consequences it leaves on child development (poverty, domestic violence, un education, early pregnancy) it is necessary to act upon its solution, taking into consideration the following sources of information:

  • Multi-indicator cluster survey conducted by UNICEF in 2011, according to which the number of young women aged 15-19 years who were married or living in a community is 4% on national level, 6%among Albanians, 2% among Macedonians, while in Roma settlements it was 22%. Furthermore, the number of young women aged 15-19 years who have given birth or are currently pregnant at national level is 3%, while in Roma settlements it is 18%,
  • The State Statistical Office for the period 2011/2014 year illustrates tendency of reducing the number of concluded (formal) marriages between persons under 20 years of age (in years: 236, 208, 185 and 158),
  • The Minister of Labor and Social Policy on the International Day of the Girl Child in 2012 said … Out of 14 thousand marriages that are concluded in Macedonia per year, 13% are between or with persons under 18 years and are mostly concluded with underage girls form the Roma community

Association ROMA S.O.S. in order to investigate in detail the phenomenon and the way it is perceived by the various parties involved, as well as the actions that are taken for the same, conducted a research in Prilep in the period from July to December 2015, applying  the following methods:

  • Legal Analysis
  • desk-top research
  • Qualitative analysis
  • 13 requests for access to public information to relevant institutions
  • Quantitative analysis
  • 15 Interviews with relevant institutions
  • 2 Focus groups with Roma community (parents and young Roma)

As a result, a case study “The grey area between tradition and children’s rights”[1] was prepared, which illustrates the following conclusions:

  • Marriage between and with a person under the age of 18 is a violation of children’s rights. It disrupts the educational process, limits the possibilities and can cause health disorders and gender inequality;
  • Mutual commitment and coordination among state institutions is still lacking in dealing with the issue from different aspects, and in particular of the absence on official data on the situation;
  • Lack of understanding in context of human rights, lack of protocols for acting as well as internal relation among state institutions, and fear of stigmatization of the community are two key obstacles to solving the issue more effectively;
  • The principle of “what is not penalized, is allowed”, allowing cohabitation between persons who have reached age of 16 years, should be eliminated as a legal justification for the violation of children’s rights.

Based on the previous, the following changes are recommended:

Harmonization of existing legislation in order to explicitly ensure that the minimum legal age is 18 for a person to live in marital community:

  • Family Law – to prohibit living of minors in extramarital communities, i.e. to ensure that marriages under 18 years of age are permitted only in exceptional cases by a court and when it is in the best interest of the child, accompanied by efforts to strictly control the issuing of expert opinion. The exception should not become a rule.
  • Criminal Code – to move the upper limit from 16 to 18 years in Article 197 to cover age to 18 years instead of 16 years as it is currently provided for sanctioning the involved adults in such cases so that the relevant institutions act in concern and take measures as to crimes.

Introducing institutional system for registering and monitoring of marriages between and with persons under 18 years:

  • Law on Secondary Education – to extend the Collection of data which would include records of the conditions of risk to children, particularly with regard to marital and extramarital communities. In doing so the school will inform the Centre for Social Work which will then take measures and activities under the Law on protection of children and will include MOI and PPO in the further proceedings.

Developing a special program for protection and prevention of marriage of persons under the age of 18:

  • Coordinated action between central and local institutions and associations for preparation of databases, exchange of data and appropriate treatment of all involved parties based on their competencies,
  • Conducting campaigns and trainings that will sensitize the public and will provide understanding about the problem in the context of human rights.

In terms of the third recommendation, in October 2016 were organized 5 public discussions where in the presence of representatives of the Roma community and local associations, representatives from health, educational and social institutions, as well as legal practitioners, was presented the Case study and was opened a discussion with the purpose of confirmation or denial of the conclusions and recommendations in it:

»03.10.2016: Municipality of Gjorche Petrov, in partnership with Association of educational workers for protection of rights of women and children “LIL”, hotel Karposh; read more at the following link.

»05.10.2016: Municipality of Bitola, in partnership with Center for development of Roma community “Bairska Svetlina”, hotel Milenium; read more at the following link.

»06.10.2016: Municipality of Shuto Orizari, in partnership with Roma educational center AMBRELA, pizzeria Pinokio; read more at the following link.

»12.10.2016: Municipality of Shtip in partnership with Association of multiethnic society for human rights, hotel Oaza; read more at the following link.

»14.10.2016: Municipality of Kumanovo, in partnership with Roma Organization of women in Macedonia “DAJA”, restaurant Rim-Paris; read more at the following link.

* The initiative for the second year is supported by the UNICEF office and the independent expert Cvetanka Ivanova, and this year by signing a Memorandum of Cooperation , besides the above 5 associations, also joined the National Network to end violence against women and domestic violence, the National Democratic Institute and Cabinet of the Minister without portfolio in the Government of RM.

When tradition law is above national law, the exception becomes a rule!

We support tradition that leads to prosperity of children up to 18 years, but not a practice that harms their development and integration!

We propose the sanction as parallel mean of protecting children’s rights and social resettlement on the subject (in addition to education and counseling) and not as institutional repression against the citizens!


[1] http://romasosprilep.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Roma-SOS_Sivata-zona_ANG_002.pdf