By Kuzeeko Tjitemisa
JOHANNESBURG – The South African Development Community Parliamentary Forum (SADC-PF) secretary general, Dr Esau Chiviya, says child marriages are not in conformity with gender equality in that the young girl child is taken advantage of.
Chiviya was speaking in Johannesburg at the two-day conference last week organised by SADC-PF and the Association of European Parliamentarians with Africa (AWEPA) that aimed at exchanging views on the subject of adolescent health and child marriages in SADC countries.
“From a human rights point of view, the young girl child is not yet mature enough to independently decide on what is good for her and what is not good for her,” he said, adding that early marriages are a violation of the young girl’s right to decide what is good.
He said adolescent health, child marriage and marriage laws are issues of common concern and interest not only to parliamentarians but to the rest of SADC citizens.
He added that SADC-PF has created a platform for its parliamentarians and other stakeholders to dialogue on adolescent health, child marriages and marriage laws aimed at developing a model law on marriages that discourages child marriages.
The dialogue is important in that not only members of parliament discuss the issue among themselves as representatives of the people, but it also brings together other players with an interest and expertise in the subject such as lawyers, human rights advocates and cooperating partners who enrich the discussion.
Chiviya highlighted the negative effects of early marriages, saying that the girl child’s body is still maturing to withstand the challenges associated with pregnancy; pregnancy for an underage girl is the most upsetting phenomenon in that she is psychologically affected as she wonders how she will cope with the pregnancy; the girl child is catapulted into adulthood when mentally she is still an adolescent, among others.
In his keynote address, Deputy Regional Director of Plan International-Regional Eastern and Southern Africa David MacDonald commended SADC-PF and AWEPA for assembling such a distinguished group in deliberating on the issue of child marriages.
“Indeed this marks a turning point in the Southern African region as we increase the energy and focus to address past practices and entrenched cultural beliefs that all too often have deprived girls of their childhood,” he said.
“The joy of reaching adulthood within a loving and protective family environment, and the liberty and freedom to fully access and enjoy their rights,” he added.
He said the meeting would lay a solid foundation to secure the future for the girl child by seeking ways to end child marriage.
According to MacDonald, more than 700 million women alive today were married before their 18th birthday. At least one in three women enters into the union of marriage before the age of 15.
“In the South African region, in particular Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi, we have some of the highest rates of child marriage in the world,” he said.
He said more than 50% of girls in Mozambique and 40% of girls in Zambia marry before the age of 18.
“It is a fact that child marriage condemns millions of girls to the all too familiar and related cycles of poverty and gender inequality,” he added.
He said it is not only child brides who suffer, but their families, communities and countries, whose development is held back by this “arcane practice”.
He said the causes of child marriage in the SADC region are complex and organised.
The conference was attended by MPs from Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe, cooperating partners, legal practitioners, human rights representatives, among others.