Humanists speak out against modern day slavery at the UN and call on states to uphold their international obligations

16 September, 2014

Humanists have today spoken out against modern day slavery at a meeting of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. The British Humanist Association (BHA) intervention welcomed the inclusion of child, early, and forced marriage (CEFM) as a form of slavery, but made clear that states who fail to provide legislative protection for children are complicit in the continuation of practices amounting to modern day slavery, and must be recognized and criticised as such.

In her statement, Amelia Cooper, representative of the BHA, outlined how states are bound by both the Supplementary Convention of the Abolition of Slavery and under international law as set forth in the UDHR, including the right to ‘free and full consent’ to a marriage when both parties are of ‘full age’. However, the absence of a minimum marital age in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, the latter of which is a member of the UNCHR, contravenes these conventions, and legitimises the ‘myriads of social pathologies’ that support servile or child, early and forced marriage. Furthermore, she pointed to regressive laws that have been proposed in Iraq and Iran that would reduce the minimum age for girls to marry to just nine years old.

Ms Cooper reported on last week’s delegation of Mauritania, which extended their support for a recommendation made by the previous Special Rapporteur that leading clerics should issue a fatwa emphasising that slavery is forbidden under Islam. She suggested that all states work with the relevant religious leaders to ensure such a pronouncement is made, including a specific reference to CEFM.

She concluded by stressing how any justifications for CEFM provided by cultural relativism or religious tradition is merely pretext for invidious and oppressive policies and must be recognised as such.


For further comment or information contact Pavan Dhaliwal, Head of Public Affairs, at or on 0773 843 5059

Read the BHA intervention:

The UN Human Rights Council:


The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.