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Eritrea
20.05.03
Urgent Interventions

Eritrea - Press Release - Violence against Women

PRESS RELEASE


The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) expresses its concern
regarding violence against girls in Eritrea at the 33rd session of the
Committee on the Rights of the Child


Geneva, 20 May 2003

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child will today begin its examination of the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in Eritrea. In its alternative country report entitled "Violence against Girls in Eritrea," which has been submitted to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) expresses its grave concern at reports of violence against girls at the hands of both private individuals and state officials. OMCT also submitted an alternative report on juvenile justice to the Committee on the Rights of the Child.

The Constitution of Eritrea has strong protections of women’s rights, a reflection of the high status women attained by participating in the liberation struggle as fighters. Additionally, Eritrea has ratified most international human rights treaties protecting girls from discrimination and violence. However, in spite of the respect women gained through the war and the resulting gender sensitive laws, the traditional Eritrean attitude towards women and girls often conflicts with Eritrea’s national and international human rights obligations.

OMCT expresses concern about the prevalence in Eritrea of several traditional practices harmful to the well-being of girls, including early marriage, dowry, polygamy and female genital mutilation. For example, the traditional view holds that the ideal age for marriage for a girl is between 12 and 18, while the ideal age for men is around 25, because marriage implies more “responsibilities” for a man. This wide age differential makes girls who are married at a young age vulnerable to violence on account of their age and their sex. Additionally, the practice of paying dowries is common in Eritrea, which risks the perception of the wife as a piece a property. Despite the formal illegality of polygamy in Eritrea, Sharia law is exempt from this law and thus polygamous unions (up to four wives) are permitted for people marrying under Sharia law. Female genital mutilation is also extremely prevalent in Eritrea, with about 89% of all girls and women having experienced this practice. FGM threatens the health of the girls subjected to it, both at the time of the operation and throughout their lives.

It is also deeply troubling that marital rape is not categorically outlawed in Eritrea. In fact, under the current penal code, marital rape is not recognized as a crime, and under the draft penal code currently under consideration, marital rape is only recognized when the spouses are separated.

Women are also subjected to sexual violence within the community. There is reportedly a cultural attitude towards the crime of rape that focuses on its shamefulness, leading to silence on the part of the victim about the crime. Especially if the woman is not married, since virginity is seen as an absolute requirement to being married, raped women are often perceived as “unmarriageable.” In addition, OMCT is gravely concerned that if the perpetrator agrees to marry the victim, all charges of rape will be dropped.

Girls are also subjected to violence at the hands of state agents in the context of the recurrent armed conflict with Ethiopia. Child soldiers, including girls, have reportedly been used in the fighting, contrary to international standards that prohibit child soldiers. Girls also have the misfortune of being female and young, two population groups that are particularly susceptible to violence, especially in times of emergency. Reports indicate that many girls and young women were raped during the most recent war with Ethiopia (1998-2000).

Overall, the government has failed to protect women from violence whether at the hands of private individuals or state officials. OMCT’s report concludes that while Eritrea has a duty under international law to act with due diligence to prevent, investigate, prosecute and punish all forms of violence against women, irrespective of whether this violence is committed by public or private individuals, this obligation has not been adequately implemented at the national level.

For copies of the alternative report on “Violence against Girls in Eritrea” or for further information on OMCT’s programme on Violence against Women please contact Lucinda O’Hanlon, at loh@omct.org or at +41 22 809 4939.
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