Child mar­riage ‘le­gal and on­go­ing’ in Canada: re­searcher

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - CANADA - JOSEPH BREAN POST­MEDIA

Since 2017, Canada’s gov­ern­ment un­der Justin Trudeau’s Lib­er­als has con­ducted for­eign pol­icy with an ex­plic­itly “fem­i­nist” ap­proach, es­pe­cially as it re­lates to sex­ual and re­pro­duc­tive health rights.

Part of that has in­volved try­ing to erad­i­cate child mar­riage over­seas. Canada is a leader and key fun­der of United Na­tions ef­forts to end child mar­riage, which is re­garded as a re­veal­ing mea­sure of a coun­try’s de­vel­op­ment.

But there is a cu­ri­ous blind spot.

“There’s been ab­so­lutely no re­flec­tion on the fact that it re­mains le­gal in Canada,” said Alissa Koski, who re­searches child mar­riage in Canada as an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor at McGill Univer­sity’s De­part­ment of Epi­demi­ol­ogy, Bio­statis­tics and Oc­cu­pa­tional Health.

The bizarre re­sult is that Canada legally per­mits the very prac­tices it con­demns and com­bats in the de­vel­op­ing world.

Child mar­riage in Canada “is le­gal and on­go­ing,” Koski con­cludes, and not as a rare le­gal quirk in niche com­mu­ni­ties of re­li­gious ex­trem­ists, as me­dia cov­er­age of­ten sug­gests.

Provinces have, in fact, is­sued mar­riage li­cences for 3,382 chil­dren over the last 18 years, ac­cord­ing to Koski’s pre­sen­ta­tion to the Congress of the Hu­man­i­ties and So­cial Sciences in Van­cou­ver.

In ab­so­lute num­bers, On­tario sanc­tioned the most child mar­riages with 1,353 since 2000, then Al­berta with 791, Que­bec with 590 and Bri­tish Columbia with 429. She adds that her re­sults likely “un­der­es­ti­mate the true ex­tent of the prac­tice.”

It has hap­pened in ev­ery re­gion, Koski said. The vast ma­jor­ity are girls; and com­pared to boys, girls marry at younger ages and to sub­stan­tially older spouses.

The rate is high­est in Al­berta, at five girls per 10,000, and one boy as mea­sured by data from the year 2016, or three chil­dren to­tal per 10,000.

Her dis­cov­ery that Canada has ap­proved at least 3,382 child mar­riages since 2000 is based on data from vi­tal sta­tis­tics of­fices, which in­di­cates the mar­riage hap­pened in Canada, but oth­er­wise of­fers lim­ited in­for­ma­tion. Fur­ther work with cen­sus data might of­fer a clearer pic­ture of de­mo­graph­ics, although with the added caveat that it will in­clude mar­riages that hap­pened in other coun­tries be­fore the per­son came to Canada.

In the United States, the rate of child mar­riage is about 6.2 chil­dren per 1000, higher in girls than boys (6.8 vs 5.7), lower among white peo­ple, higher among Indige­nous and Chi­nese, and rang­ing from less than four chil­dren per 1,000 in Maine, Rhode Is­land and Wy­oming, to as much as 10 per 1,000 in West Vir­ginia, Hawaii and North Dakota, ac­cord­ing to Koski’s pre­vi­ous stud­ies of child mar­riage in Amer­ica.

Her doc­toral re­search was on child mar­riage in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa and In­dia, which fits with the com­mon imag­i­na­tion of the phe­nom­e­non as “some­thing that hap­pens else­where,” as Koski put it.

For ex­am­ple, her sep­a­rate re­search on Cana­dian me­dia cov­er­age of the is­sue shows it is al­most en­tirely about Canada’s ef­forts to erad­i­cate child mar­riage abroad. The few ex­cep­tions are fo­cused on spe­cific re­li­gious mi­nori­ties, pri­mar­ily the fun­da­men­tal­ist Mor­mons in Boun­ti­ful, B.C., and the fun­da­men­tal­ist Jewish sect Lev Ta­hor, first in Ste-Agathe-Des-Monts, Que., later in Chatham, Ont.

Canada’s fed­eral Civil Mar­riage Act sets the min­i­mum age for mar­riage at 16. Provinces, which ad­min­is­ter the li­cens­ing, re­quire parental con­sent for peo­ple younger than 18.

But the United Na­tions, and Canada through its par­tic­i­pa­tion in its var­i­ous pro­grams and doc­u­ments, re­gards child mar­riage as mar­riage of a child, which is to say some­one younger than 18.

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