UNCRC and CEDAW joint General Comment on Harmful Practices

Date: 5th November 2014
Category: General Comments

For the first time, two UN human rights expert Committees have joined forces to issue a comprehensive interpretation of the obligations of States to prevent and eliminate harmful practices inflicted on women and girls.

Harmful practices can include female genital mutilation, crimes committed in the name of so-called honour, forced and child marriage, and polygamy. The joint General Comment also refers to practices such as virginity testing, binding, widowhood practices, infanticide, and body modifications including fattening, neck elongation and breast ironing. The Committees also pay attention to practices such as women and girls undergoing plastic surgery to conform to social norms of beauty.

Examining harmful practices from a human rights perspective, children have a right to be protected from practices that have absolutely no health or medical benefits but which can have long-term negative effects on their physical or mental well-being. Article 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) recognises the right of every child to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health and requires State Parties to take "all effective and appropriate measures with a view to abolishing traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children."

The two UN human rights expert Committees are the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). A General Comment typically seeks to offer guidance on the implementation of UN human rights treaties and aims to widen and deepen understanding of particular aspects of human rights.

In a press release of 5th November 2014, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child member Hiranthi Wijemanne (CRC) reminded that "it is time to examine harmful practices from a human rights perspective ... we also need to recognise that boys also suffer from harmful practices and that men and boys have a key role in eliminating them."