We write in advance of the 94th pre-session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child and its review of Togo. This submission includes information on teenage pregnancy, child marriage, and the protection of education from attack during armed conflict, and addresses articles 19, 28, and 29 of the Convention.
Teenage Pregnancy and Child Marriage: Barriers to the Right to Education (articles 19, 28, and 29)
From 2004 to 2020, the adolescent birth rate in Togo was 79 per 1,000 adolescent girls and women aged 15-19. This is lower than the subregional rate in West and Central Africa of 104, but still almost twice the world rate of 40. Moreover, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) 2017 data surveys, 25 percent of girls in the country are married before the age of 18, and 6 percent are married before the age of 15. Forced marriage is reportedly common in the northern part of Togo and in the Vogan region, about 50 kilometers east of Lomé, the capital, in the southern part of the country.
Togo’s 2007 Code of the Child stipulates that the minimum age of marriage is 18. However, a court may grant exemptions to children from the age of 16 if “serious cause” is found, and if it has consent from a parent or legal guardian. Article 267 of the Code does not elaborate on what may constitute a “serious cause.”
In March 2022, Togo’s Ministry of Education repealed a 1978 circular that authorized a longstanding school ban against pregnant students. Nevertheless, Togo has not adopted a policy that outlines measures to guarantee the right to education for students who are pregnant or are mothers. In other contexts, Human Rights Watch has found that the lack of clear government guidelines on the rights of pregnant students or adolescent mothers, and on school re-entry procedures, can lead to irregular enforcement of the right to education at the school level.
Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee ask the government of Togo:
- What measures are in place to protect the right to education of girls who are pregnant, married, or are adolescent mothers?
- What steps is the government taking to ensure pregnant girls and adolescent mothers who are at risk of dropping out are socially and financially supported to stay in school?
- What special accommodations are provided for young mothers at school, such as time for breast-feeding, flexibility when babies are ill, or flexibility in class schedules?
- What programs are in place to ensure access to nurseries or early childhood centers close to schools?
- How have school closures due to the Covid-19 pandemic affected the rate of teenage pregnancies and child marriages in the country?
- What steps are being taken to set the minimum age of marriage to 18 without exception?
- How is the government working to reduce, and eventually eliminate, the practice of child marriage?
Human Rights Watch encourages the Committee to:
- Commend Togo for repealing the 1978 circular that authorized school bans against pregnant students.
Human Rights Watch also encourages the Committee to call on the government of Togo to:
- Address social, financial, and systemic barriers that inhibit adolescent mothers from continuing their education.
- Guarantee that students who are pregnant, mothers, and/or married can continue their education after giving birth and ensure that schools are free from stigma and discrimination.
- Ensure that adolescents have confidential access to modern forms of contraceptives, abortion services, and information on sexual and reproductive health rights, including through comprehensive sexuality education.
- Set the minimum age of marriage at 18 with no exceptions.
- Create a national action plan to combat child marriage, with input from women’s and children’s rights groups, coordinate efforts among all relevant ministries, and ensure sufficient resources to implement the plan.
Protection of Education from Attack (article 28)
Initially led by the governments of Norway and Argentina among United Nations (UN) member states in 2015, the Safe Schools Declaration is an inter-governmental political commitment that provides countries the opportunity to express political support for the protection of students, teachers, and schools during times of armed conflict, the importance of the continuation of education during armed conflict, and the implementation of the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict. Togo endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration in 2021.
In October 2020, the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child issued a general comment on children and armed conflict in Africa, in which they stated that “all State Parties’ should either ban the use of schools for military purposes, or, at a minimum, enact concrete measures to deter the use of schools for military purposes in accordance with the Safe Schools Declaration’s Guidelines on Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict, including through their legislation, doctrine, military manuals, rules of engagement, operational orders, and other means of dissemination to encourage appropriate practice throughout the chain of command.” In January 2021, the African Union began requiring countries contributing troops to its peace operations to “ensure that schools are not attacked and used for military purposes.”
As of June 2022, Togo provides 1,089 personnel to five UN peacekeeping missions. The 2017 Child Protection Policy of the UN Department of Peace Operations, Department of Field Support, and Department of Political Affairs notes: “United Nations peace operations should refrain from all actions that impede children’s access to education, including the use of school premises. This applies particularly to uniformed personnel. Furthermore … United Nations peace operations personnel shall at no time and for no amount of time use schools for military purposes.”
Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee pose the following questions to the government of Togo:
- What steps has Togo taken to implement the commitments in the Safe Schools Declaration?
- Do any Togolese laws, policies, or trainings provide explicit protection for schools and universities from military use during armed conflict?
- Does pre-deployment training for Togolese peacekeepers include the ban on using schools in military operations?
Human Rights Watch encourages the Committee to:
- Congratulate Togo for endorsing the Safe Schools Declaration.
- Recommend that the government of Togo implement the commitments of the Safe Schools Declaration and share any good practices with other countries in the African Union.
 United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), “Seeing the Unseen: The case for action in the neglected crisis of unintended pregnancy,” 2022, https://www.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/pub-pdf/EN_SWP22%20report_0.pdf (accessed September 23, 2022);
 Girls not Brides, “Child Marriage Atlas: Togo, Prevalence Rates,” https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/learning-resources/child-marriage-atlas/atlas/ (accessed October 21, 2022); UNICEF, “Togo 2017 Datasets,” March 23, 2020, https://mics.unicef.org/news_entries/154/JUST-RELEASED:-TOGO-2017-DATASETS (accessed November 4, 2022).
 Republic of Togo, Loi no. 2007-017 du 6 juillet 2007 portant code de l'enfant, July 6, 2007, https://www.refworld.org/docid/5ce409a34.html (accessed October 27, 2022), arts. 267 and 270.
 Republic of Togo, “Décision No. 33/2022/MEPSTA/CAB/SG portant abrogation de la lettre circulaire N 8478/MEN-RS du 15 décembre 1978,” December 15, 1978, https://features.hrw.org/features/african-union/files/Togo%20-%20Decision%20No.%2033%20de%202022.pdf (accessed October 24, 2022).
 Human Rights Watch, Leave No Girl behind in Africa: Discrimination in Education against Pregnant Girls and Adolescent Mothers, (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2018) https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/report_pdf/au0618_web.pdf.
 Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA), “The Safe Schools Declaration,” https://ssd.protectingeducation.org/ (accessed November 2, 2022).
 Safe Schools Declaration, May 28, 2015, https://www.regjeringen.no/globalassets/departementene/ud/vedlegg/utvikling/safe_schools_declaration.pdf (accessed October 25, 2022).
 GCPEA, Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict, March 18, 2014, http://protectingeducation.org/sites/default/files/documents/guidelines_en.pdf (accessed October 25, 2022).
 Republic of Togo, “Education : le Togo s'engage davantage pour la sécurité dans les écoles,” September 6, 2021, https://www.republiquetogolaise.com/gestion-publique/0609-5950-education-le-togo-sengage-davantage-pour-la-securite-dans-les-ecoles (accessed October 27, 2022).
 African Committee on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, General Comment on Article 22: Children in Armed Conflict, (2020), para. 59.
 African Union, Peace and Security Department, “International Day to Protect Education from Attack: Joint Statement by African Union Commission’s Department of Political Affairs, Peace and Security (PAPS); Department of Health, Humanitarian Affairs and Social Development and Save the Children International,” September 9, 2021, https://www.peaceau.org/en/article/international-day-to-protect-education-from-attack-joint-statement-by-african-union-commission-s-department-of-political-affairs-peace-and-security-paps-department-of-health-humanitarian-affairs-and-social-development-and-save-the-children-international (accessed November 2, 2022).
 United Nations Peacekeeping, “Troop and Police Contributors,” last updated June 30, 2022, https://peacekeeping.un.org/en/troop-and-police-contributors (accessed October 24, 2022).
 UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Department of Field Support and Department of Political Affairs, “Child Protection in UN Peace Operations (Policy),” June 2017.