[11.03.2019, London] – Children in Gambia can be criminalised from the age of 12, may be sentenced to life imprisonment and it remains legal for a husband to rape his wife, all thanks to a shameful legacy left by Britain in Commonwealth countries.
Such harmful laws, which have their origins in the colonial era, are present in a huge number of the Commonwealth’s 53 countries, where more than a third of the world’s children live.
Across these countries, the average minimum age at which a person can be held legally responsible for their actions is just ten years old, while some States set it as low as seven.
In 32 Commonwealth countries child marriage is legal, and in 18 of them it is not a crime for a husband to rape his wife.
Of the 67 countries left in the world still allowing children to be sentenced to life in prison, 45 are in the Commonwealth. Out of 71 that still have laws allowing prosecution for blasphemy, 38 belong to the Commonwealth. The same number of countries also criminalise consensual same-sex acts.
While the legacy of the Commonwealth is usually touted as one of unity and mutual benefit, the truth is that those States grappling with Britain’s colonial legacy 70 years after the London Declaration do not often have legal systems that uphold children’s human rights.
Rather than celebrating this legacy, the British government should apologise for it. But because we do not expect it to, we have written the kind of apology it ought to issue this Commonwealth Day. For the full apology and the data we have gathered on children’s rights in the Commonwealth, click here.