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ERRC Statement Concerning Recent Events Surrounding Romanian Romani Wedding

7 October 2003

European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) Statement Concerning Recent Events Surrounding the Wedding of Ana Maria Cioaba in Romania October 7, 2003.

The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) welcomes the decision of the Child Protection Service in Sibiu, Romania, to separate Ana Maria Cioaba, a Romani girl purported to be between the ages of 12 and 14 (depending on the media source quoted), and Mihai Birita, a 15-year-old Romani boy. Ms Anca Dragan, head of the Child Protection Service in Sibiu, informed the ERRC that the decision, agreed to in writing by both Ms Cioaba's and Mr Birita's parents, states that both children must return to their parents' homes, to go to school and attend counselling sessions at the state Child Protection Service until they reach the legal age of marriage.

In recent days, there has been an outbreak of media attention in a number of countries to the issue of the marriage in Romania of Ms Cioaba, who was reportedly coerced into matrimony by members of her family. According to media reports, police in Romania have opened investigation "on charges of sex with a minor", though Romanian daily newspaper Evenimentul Zilei quoted Mr Doru Pioana of the Sibiu Tribunal Prosecutor's Office as having stated that there is no evidence which proves that the couple had sexual relations. Investigation was begun following demands by Member of the European Parliament Baroness Emma Nicholson, an EU envoy in Romania. Baroness Nicholson was quoted by a number of news agencies as stating: "Implementation of human rights for everyone is essential for full entry into the European Union. Sadly, Romania still has a number of grave weaknesses which will hinder her progress unless urgently addressed." Major media reporting of the wedding and its aftermath have included the BBC and the Associated Press. As presented by sensationalised media coverage, the core of the issue -- to what extent Ms Cioaba was coerced into marriage -- remains as yet un-elucidated. Nevertheless, widespread public discussion of the issue has provided a welcome opportunity for young Romani women to express their views on this issue.

The ERRC is aware of debates concerning toleration for traditional practices and the limits of the liberal order. Forced marriage, however, is a violation of fundamental human rights, implicating a wide range of international standards and laws. Most notably, Article 23(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states, "No marriage shall be entered into without the free and full consent of the intending spouses." The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women has recently noted that "a forced marriage is a marriage conducted without the valid consent of both parties, where duress is a factor. It is a violation of international human rights standards and cannot be justified on religious or cultural grounds." Forced marriage of minors further implicates a broad range of fundamental human rights, calling into question states' compliance with the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, the guiding principle of which is "the best interests of the child". In particular, Article 19(1) of the Convention states: "States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child."

Further, the marriage of minors is itself of deep concern. Child marriage constitutes a threat to the realisation of the right to education, guaranteed under numerous international instruments including the European Convention on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Child marriage also creates conditions for the infringement or unnecessary limitation of the right to the highest attainable standard of health. Most importantly, as limited moral agents, children are incapable of taking the fully capacitated decisions in the sense of ICCPR Article 23, quoted above. It is for this reason that under the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to marry is established at Article 12 as follows: "Men and women of marriageable age have the right to marry and to found a family, according to the national laws governing the exercise of this right."

The ERRC has consistently condemned human rights violations against Roma in Romania. In most cases the perpetrators have been non-Roma. In the instant case the perpetrators are Romani relatives of the victims. The ERRC welcomes the Romanian government's decision and wishes to see similar effective law enforcement also in the hundreds of cases in which the perpetrators are Romanian non-Roma, whether state or non-state actors. It is crucial that Romanian authorities show an even-handed approach in their acts to counter human rights abuse.

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