Call for action as figures reveal 68 children married in Northern Ireland in 2014
More than 60 children were married in Northern Ireland in 2014, according to figures released by the Human Rights Commission.
The commission presented a report on the Rights of the Child to the United Nations yesterday.
Latest figures, obtained from the NI Statistics and Research Agency, show that 68 children were married in 2014. Of these, 42 were girls and 26 were boys.
In Northern Ireland, children aged 16 or 17 may be married with the consent of their parents or legal guardians.
This runs contrary to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recommendation to increase the minimum age for marriage with and without parental consent to 18 years for both girls and boys.
Speaking ahead of the Committee presentation, NIHRC Chief Commissioner Les Allamby commented: "Child, early and forced marriage is one of over 20 issues that we have brought to the attention of the UN in this report.
"The marriage of under 18-year-olds is a live issue in Northern Ireland that needs to be addressed through a change to the law. This issue is a global one as well as a local one."
Commenting on the wider aspects of the report, Mr Allamby added: "Many of these issues have been raised before, but unfortunately progress has been poor. They include a lack of movement on raising the age of criminal responsibility, ending smacking of children and reducing the use of remand for children in the criminal justice system.
"The new NI Assembly and Executive needs to step up to the mark. Children's rights must be prioritised and a devolved government be seen to take its international obligations seriously. Our elected representatives should take the decisive actions required to improve the protection of our children's rights."
The commission has advised that the UN Committee should ask the UK Government, including the Northern Ireland Executive, to take immediate efforts to repeal all legal provisions permitting the marriage of children in Northern Ireland and move to increase the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to at least 12 years of age.
They are also asking that all assaults against children by members of paramilitary organisations are thoroughly investigated and that the perpetrators are prosecuted and if convicted, punished with appropriate sanctions.
The commission is hoping the government will abolish the defence of reasonable chastisement of a child to a charge of common assault; take immediate steps in Northern Ireland to decriminalise abortion in all circumstances and review its legislation with a view to ensuring children's access to safe abortion and post-abortion care services.