The International Legal ‘Regime’ Against Child Marriage: A Haphazard Patchwork

By Linny Kit Tong Ng

“The existing international legal architecture designed to address child marriage is markedly deficient, representing a haphazard patchwork of provisions with varying degrees of relevance strewn throughout numerous international and regional conventions.  This framework fails to articulate a cohesive strategy for the eradication of child marriage; the language used is frequently ambiguous, resulting in standards that offer little specific or useful guidance for implementation, and lack enforcement mechanisms.  These deficiencies have precluded the establishment of a robust and enforceable global norm against child marriage.  Regional African instruments have demonstrated that linguistic precision in themselves does not guarantee compliance, as enforcement often falters due to exceptions carved out by the law for customary and religious unions, a lack of political will, or resources.

Combating child marriage requires a comprehensive and nuanced approach that extends beyond international agreements to include local collaboration.  To avoid the pitfalls of paternalism and cultural imperialism, sufficient time and effort must be invested in identifying the appropriate standards to be enshrined in a hypothetical, dedicated anti-child marriage convention.  Additionally, states must reconsider conventional approaches of imposing sanctions and dispensing incentives.  This Comment advocates for a deeper exploration of reversible rewards as a novel strategy to enhance compliance with anti-child marriage measures.

Given its intersection with private law and human rights, child marriage presents an exceptionally intricate challenge.  Efforts to eradicate the practice are further complicated by its widespread occurrence, the influences of globalization, sociocultural mores, religious beliefs, and economic conditions.  Addressing the issue effectively calls for not just legal interventions, but also a commitment to education and cultural engagement that empowers children, families, and entire communities.  Such transformational efforts are gradual and are part of broader societal movements that address gender equality and environmental sustainability.  Consequently, while the elimination of child marriage is a global imperative, it is a goal that must be pursued with careful deliberation and respect for the complex tapestry of societal dynamics.”

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