- Published on Saturday, 12 October 2013 02:51
- Written by ROSE ATHUMANI
- Hits: 724
THE government is banking on the Constitution Review Commission to help change laws on marriage to stop child marriages in the country.
Constitutional and Legal Affairs Minister, Mr Mathias Chikawe said on Friday that there have been numerous attempts to change laws that allow child marriages but society has been the major hindrance.
Mr Chikawe, who was participating in a high-level panel discussions to end child marriage, which was organized to mark the International Day of the Girl Child on Friday, said the government had conducted a survey with intent to change both the marriage and capital punishment laws.
“But to our surprise different communities wanted both laws to remain as they are, in fact some communities even queried why the age of consent for girls to marry should be 18,” he said, noting that in his views to the CRC, he pointed out the need for new laws that will allow girls to get married from 18 years and above.
“I remain hopeful that the government will finally enact the right laws in this case, through the envisaged new constitution,” he explained.
The minister said there is a need for dynamic public awareness for society to understand the importance of letting girls complete their education and making their own choices in life.
He pointed out that a lot of young girls under 18 are married off due to a number of reasons including poverty, traditions and religious beliefs.
Mr Chikawe noted that once the marriage laws are changed to allow the age to be 18, all stakeholders should embark on campaigning for the age to be increased to 21 years old.
“We should prepare to work on ensuring the age of majority is changed to 18, in fact it ought to be 21 instead of 18, because I think at 18 years a girl is still a child,” he noted.
In his opening remarks, UNICEF Country Representative Dr Jama Gulaid underscored the need to invest in educating girls, instead of marrying them off at a young age, to help them rise up to global challenges.
Dr Gulaid said all partners must work together to create conditions where girls are protected and educated to empower them to realize their potential in contributing to their families, communities and national economies.
“Let’s work together in investing in educating girls, so that they can work and contribute towards our common future,” he explained.
United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Representative in the country, Ms Mariam Khan said UNFPA works closely with all partners including the government to bring an end to child marriages.
She also underscored the importance of educating girls before marrying them off young, to give them the power to chose when, where and how many children to have.
“Child marriage results in early and unwanted pregnancies, posing life-threatening risks for girls. A girl who marries later in life is more likely to stay in school, work and re-invest her income into her family and community, she is also more empowered to choose when, where and how many children to have.
She and her family are more educated and healthier,” she explained. In her comments via videoconference, the Founder of Graca Machel Trust, Ms Graca Machel emphasized on the need for partnership across all sectors to end child marriages.
“If we all work together as a team we can unleash a wave of change that will see an end to child marriages in Africa and the world at large,” she said.
Child marriage also known as early marriage is a huge challenge in the country, with the highest child marriage prevalence rates in the world. On average almost two out of five girls will be married before their 18th birthday. About 37 per cent of the women aged between 20 and 24 were married before they were 18.
Child marriage in the country occurs more frequently among girls who are the least educated, poorest and living in rural areas.