Mixed fortunes in SADC’s war against child marriage

Pregnant-girls-Malawi.jpg

Pregnant Malawi girls drop out of school.

from ODIRILE TOTENG in Gaborone, Botswana
Botswana Bureau
GABORONE, (CAJ News) – CHILD marriage remains a widespread and persistent problem across the region despite commendable efforts by Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) countries to strengthen legal protections.

Civil society organizations have therefore called for greater commitment to close the gaps.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Equality Now have presented two policy briefs on ending child marriage to the Standing Committees of the SADC Parliamentary Forum.

These highlight the Gaps and Opportunities in Legislative Frameworks and Domesticating the SADC Model Law in Child Marriage.

The policy briefs focus on the progress of domesticating the SADC Model Law on Eradicating Child Marriage and Protecting Children Already in Marriage (Model Law) among the 16 SADC member countries.

UNFPA and Equality Now identified various gaps in applying the Model Law.

Deeply entrenched cultural practices, poverty, and limited access to education and sexual and reproductive healthcare are slowing progress and hindering efforts to reform marriage and family laws.

While legal reform remains a key strategy in addressing child marriage, the report recommends that governments close the divide between legal approaches and approaches aimed at influencing social and community norms.

Divya Srinivasan, a human rights lawyer at Equality Now, called upon SADC member states to prioritize legal reform to comply with international and regional human rights obligations and ensure that the minimum age of marriage is set at 18 across the board, without any exceptions.

“These laws also need to be effectively implemented using a multi-sectoral approach with adequate budgetary allocation,” Srinivasan said.

Justine Coulson, UNFPA East and Southern Regional Office deputy regional director, concurred.

“Legal approaches need to be better embedded in the overall approach to ending child marriage,” Coulson said.

The official explained the Model Law was not just a proposed minimum standard indicating a need for compliance.

“It is an expression of social values and zero tolerance for child marriage, gender-based violence and contributing to the improvement of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights such as reduction of teenage pregnancy.”

SADC is headquartered in Botswana.

– CAJ News