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Lowenstein Clinic Releases Report on Child Marriage in Sierra Leone

The Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School and Plan UK, a global charity working with children and communities to ensure children’s rights, recently published a report, "Before Their Time: Challenges to Implementing the Prohibition Against Child Marriage in Sierra Leone."

The report, drafted by Ben Baker ’14, Amanda Elbogen ’13, and Stephanie Keene ’12 as student members of the Lowenstein Clinic, was based on the team’s spring 2012 research trip to Sierra Leone. The team also traveled to Sierra Leone in October 2012 to present its findings and recommendations at a meeting of government and civil society officials in the capital, Freetown. Insights from the all-day meeting further informed the 2013 report. The Robina Foundation Human Rights Fellowship Initiative at Yale Law School provided funding for the student/faculty research team’s travel to Sierra Leoene for this meeting.

The project was supervised by Professor James Silk, Clinical Professor of Law at Yale Law School and Director of the Lowenstein Clinic, and by Allyson McKinney, who was then the Robert M. Cover – Allard K. Lowenstein Fellow in International Human Rights at Yale Law School. Plan UK and Plan Sierra Leone collaborated in the research for the report.

The Clinic team’s research trip to Sierra Leone in the spring of 2012 included interviews with government officials, customary leaders, customary law officers, representatives of international and local non-governmental organizations, local educators, religious leaders, and law enforcement officials. The Clinic team also interviewed individuals who have experienced child marriage firsthand or have been affected by the practice.

The report details the ways in which the early and forced marriage of children (especially girls) endangers the health, physical safety, education, and emotional well-being of children globally. In Sierra Leone, 51 percent of women are married before they reach the age of 18, and 20 percent of women aged 20-24 were married by their 15th birthday. Although child marriage is prohibited under international and Sierra Leonean law, an array of forces, including patriarchal customary practices, poverty, socio-economic factors, sexual abuse, and religious beliefs, fuels the perpetuation of the practice.

This is the first report, besides a brief reference in a 2008 World Health Organization Survey, to document barriers to ending early and forced marriage in Sierra Leone.

The report concludes with a series of short- and long-term recommendations for a range of actors who are critical to the effort to end child marriage.

Read the full report.