The SADC Parliamentary Forum (SADC-PF) has mobilised financial and technical resources to develop a SADC Model Law on Child Marriage as SADC Member States raise the ante against the scourge that affects millions of girls in Sub-Saharan Africa and beyond.
The Secretary General of SADC PF, Dr Esau Chiviya, revealed at the start of a two-day national follow-up workshop on child marriage law, which got underway in Lusaka, Zambia yesterday (Tuesday).
Chiviya announced several partners rallied behind the SADC-PF as it moves towards the development of a SADC Model Law on Child Marriages. He said the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) had made a commitment to provide technical support for the development of a position paper, which would serve as a lobbying document alongside the proposed Model Law on Child Marriages.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) gave financial support towards securing the services of a legal drafter hired for the project.
More support has come from Plan’s 18+ Group, which has provided money while the Southern African Litigation Centre has also provided funds towards convening drafters to work on the proposed Model Law on Child Marriage.
“SADC PF is grateful to all the partners that have come on board … We hope that other partners will come on board to support this noble cause,” Chiviya said.
He said globally, a staggering 15 million girls are married every year. More than 720 million women alive today were married before their 18th birthday with approximately one in three of them having entered marriage union before the age of 15 years.
“Closer home in Southern Africa, child marriage is a major problem with some of our countries reporting disturbingly high prevalence rates, in some cases of up to 50 percent as in the case of Mozambique and 40 percent right here in Zambia where we are meeting in order to come up with a legislative instrument to curb the problem. Whichever way you look at it, this is an abomination,” he said.
A resolution of the 35TH SADC-PF Plenary Assembly held in Mauritius in June 2014 called for concerted efforts to eradicate child marriages across the SADC region. After that resolution, the SADC-PF, the Association of European Parliamentarians with Africa (AWEPA) and Plan 18+ Zambia Sub-Regional Group convened a regional dialogue of Child Marriages from February 3rd to the 4th, 2015 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The Dialogue adopted a Six Step Road Map proposed by Chiviya towards the development of a Model Law that would contribute towards ending Child Marriages by providing SADC countries with the necessary reference information. While hailing stakeholders for meeting again yesterday to exchange notes after the commitments made in Johannesburg, Chiviya expressed concern over the fact the majority of SADC countries were still far from effectively and boldly dealing with Child Marriages despite its negative consequences.
“Child Marriage is an extremely devastating phenomenon. It robs girl children of their childhood and denies them the opportunity to benefit meaningfully from formal education thereby condemning them to perpetual poverty. It exposes affected children to gender-based violence, HIV and AIDS, fistula and pregnancy-related complications including death while giving life.” According to the SADC-PF boss, child marriage can compromise socio-economic development of whole countries in that some of the affected children seldom grow into educated and skilled human resources.
“It also breeds a generation of poorly socialised children in that the child mothers in child marriages are often incapable of socialising their own children. Indeed, in many cases they are incapable of taking care of themselves!,”
He said it was heartening to note the African Union had recently adopted a common position on Ending Child Marriages Agreement which signals AU’s commitment to empower women and girls and protect their human rights. The AU Summit of Heads of State and Government have adopted the Agreement.
“Under this Agreement the AU is urging Member States to establish comprehensive Action Plans to end child Marriages. This would also include establishing and enforcing laws, which set the minimum age for marriage at 18 years. The AU will monitor progress towards this goal as part of its Agenda 2063 Strategy, which aims to ensure positive transformation within the next 50 years,” he said.
He said a SADC Model Law on Child Marriage can be used as a reference document by countries that are in the process of developing their own Child Marriage related laws.
“We have seen this happening with respect to our now widely-quoted SADC Model Law on HIV and AIDS. It would be a specific, evidence-based document that our Members of Parliament and other stakeholders can use when they advocate for the rights of the region’s girls and boys. Additionally, since the Model Law will be coined in legal parlance, it will be useful to Parliamentary legal drafters as they draft Acts of Parliament,” stated Chiviya.
Chiviya saluted some African countries that are showing leadership by developing or passing relevant Bills or Laws aimed at ending Child Marriages. In February 2015, Malawi Parliament passed the Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Bill, which raised the legal marriage age from 15 to 18 years old. Previously, 50 percent of girls in Malawi were married before the age of 18 years. The Zambian Government has launched a multi-sectoral approach to address child marriage and teenage pregnancy. The approach has seen traditional leaders playing active and prominent roles while the private sector has also come on board.
Quoting Mahatma Gandhi, Chiviya challenged stakeholders attending the follow up dialogue in Zambia to be “the change that you wish to see in the world.”
The SADC-PF, AWEPA and the Sub-regional programme Manager of Plan’s 18+ programme and Plan. Netherlands organised the national follow-up workshop. Participants include Parliamentarians and representatives of collaborating institutions.