In 2009, the National Assembly of Mali drafted a new Code of Persons and the Family with the aim of modernizing its legislation. The law, while welcomed by human rights defenders, is strongly opposed by Islamic organizations. Under this pressure, a new version was drafted and was adopted by the National Assembly and then promulgated by the President of Mali in 2011.
This 2011 law allows marriage for girls from the age of 16, and in certain circumstances, from the age of 15. In addition, the law recognizes the validity of religious marriages which can be conducted between non-consenting people, who are sometimes minors, and in some cases are not even present at their own wedding.
This law also says that Islamic law and custom apply in matters of inheritance, which means that women receive half of what male heirs receive, and children who are born out of wedlock do not receive inheritance only if the parents decided so before they died.
The Association for the Progress and Defense of Women’s Rights (APDF), a Malian NGO, as well as the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA), a pan-African NGO, alarmed by the 2011 law, looked for ways to challenge it. However, there is no recourse in Mali against laws adopted in parliament, even if these are contrary to the constitution or to the treaties that the country has ratified. These two NGOs then directly submitted a complaint to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights to denounce the violations of the rights of women and children in Mali through this law.
In its judgment of 11 May 2018, the African Court concluded that the minimum age of marriage must be 18 for both men and women, that the free consent of those concerned must be compulsory, and that the right of women and all children to receive an inheritance indiscriminately should be protected. The judges reminded Mali that, by ratifying the Maputo Protocol on the Rights of Women and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, the country has undertaken an obligation to eliminate practices and traditions that undermine the rights of women and children – and this law, on the contrary, perpetuates them.
The African Court thus ordered Mali to modify its law within 2 years to bring it into line with its international obligations, as well as to take measures to inform, teach, educate and sensitize the populations to these issues. Such a judgment has the potential to change the lives of thousands of women, girls and boys in Mali so that everyone can enjoy their right to wait until they are adults before marrying, freely choose their partner and receive an inheritance in a fair way.
[post judgement: Unfortunately, the law remains the same.]