The sad reality of child marriages

The sad reality of child marriages

In Lesotho the incidences of children who are married by the age of 18 stand at 17 percent while that of children married by age 15 stand at one percent.
These statistics although lower than of many countries in the SADC region paint a gloomy picture because child marriages are a threat to the future wellbeing of children, especially the girl child.
It is important to note that child marriages are one of the aspects that contribute to high maternal mortality as the bodies of young girls are not yet ready to carry a child to full term.
In addition, young girls who experience unplanned pregnancies find themselves being forced to drop out of school and get into early marriages. In most cases these girls never go back to school. A factor that works against them is that they are often illiterate which breeds poverty.

Like many countries in the SADC region, child marriages have become a thorn in the side of the Lesotho government that needs to be eradicated.
As a result Princess Senate Mohato Bereng Seeiso has been selected as the ambassador and national champion to end child marriages. The young princess seems intent on fulfilling this mammoth task as she has been to many places in the country in an endeavour to deter young girls from getting into early marriages.
In addition, the Ministry of Education and Training in Lesotho is the only ministry that has direct contact with the majority of the young people in the country.
The Education Ministry is also reported to be in the process of finalising a Gender Based Violence Policy that will be a guideline on issues such as reproductive health, early marriages, unintended pregnancies and gender-based violence.

The move by the ministry if realised could go a long way in helping the princess achieve the goal of ending child marriages in Lesotho.
However, the complexity contradicting the nature of the legislation regarding marriage in Lesotho might work against her efforts and those of different stakeholders in the fight against this horrendous practice that kills the aspirations and dreams of our young girls.

This is because in Lesotho, under customary law, a person can get married upon reaching puberty. The current situation is that many of our girls reach puberty at as young an age as nine years. Does it mean a nine-year-old can get into marriage?

Also, according to the Marriage Act, a girl can legally marry at age 16 and a boy at age 18 with the consent of the minister. This law even seems to be biased towards the girl children as their age is lower than for their boy counterparts.

Additionally, the Child and Gender Protection Act (CPWA), an act that seeks to protect the rights of children, is not very helpful when it comes to circumstances surrounding child marriages as it has not repealed neither the customary law that allows children to marry after puberty nor the Marriage Act that gives the Ministers powers to give consent to marriages of girls less than the age of 16.

This apparent lack of harmonisation on laws regarding marriages remains a major hurdle for prosecutors and magistrates as well as other law enforcement agencies regarding which law they have to use.

The SADC gender protocol, in article 10 advocates for the protection of all children. It is therefore up to the relevant stakeholders in Lesotho to ensure that they develop relevant legislation that protects children. It is also imperative for the lawmakers to ensure harmonisation of the laws to avoid complicating cases unnecessarily.
The health of a nation is often measured by the wellbeing of its children. Let us not wait for the girl children to die in hospitals giving birth because they were too young before we do anything.
Let us support the princess in the initiative to curb child marriages. The fight against child marriages is not for a selected few. Like HIV/AIDS, with child marriages we are all either infected or affected.

Kelello Rakolobe

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