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Civil societies lobby change in child marriage laws

Uyapo Ndadi
Botswana Civil Society groups are seeking law reforms in the country to end child marriages.

The civil groups under the Sexual Reproductive Health and African Trust Botswana (SAT Botswana) on Monday held a consultative meeting on the laws facilitating child marriage in Botswana.

The consultative meeting was aimed at seeking to engage the broader civil society in forging unified approach efforts for law reforms to end child marriages following the recent amendment of the Penal Code to increase the age of consent to 18 years. During the consultative meeting, human rights lawyer, Uyapo Ndadi said the plea was to completely abolish child marriages in the country as it has devastating consequences on the children. Ndadi said the lobby to end child marriages was in line with that it undermines the child’s sexual reproductive health in light that a spouse can easily force a minor child to have sexual relations with them.

“The offence of marital rape is not flagged as an offence in Botswana. This means that the spouse cannot be held responsible under the law,” he said.  He explained that the lobby was that it should be in line with the Children’s Act and the recent Penal Code amendment bill that increased the age of consent to sex from 16 to 18. He warned that failure to make the necessary safeguards may result in some undermining the good intentions and effects of the law by abusing children under the guise of marriage.

This is in reference to that the Marriage Act only deals with essential elements of a civil marriage whereas laws permit that a child under the age of 18 years can be married in accordance with customary law or any other religion.

Ndadi submitted that in this instance, the law must be changed and that both Children’s Act and Marriage Act amended by specifically prohibiting any marriage of a child.

“The Children’s Act must completely prohibit child marriages and should prohibit subjecting children to cultural and religious practices, which are detrimental to their well being such as forced marriages, especially the

girl child,” he said. Ndadi also said that the lobby to change laws and end child marriage was focused on the basis that within the marriage relationship, because of the inequality in age in most cases the child would not be able to negotiate for safe sex practices.

As a result it makes the child more susceptible to contracting HIV and AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases. This means that in the same vein, the child’s reproductive rights will be infringed as they may be forced to nurture children if they are of child-bearing age before they themselves are psychologically and emotionally equipped to do so.  Moreso that they may not even have a say in determining the number, spacing and timing of their children.

“Child marriages have effects on the child’s access to education due to responsibilities that they must now shoulder in the household. Most children in this position drop out of school, which in turn has implications on their competitiveness in the job market

We should not have laws that permit children who majority are girls to be spouses when they should be in school still growing,” he noted. Ndadi said Botswana should borrow a leaf from neighbours Zimbabwe for instance who its constitutional court declared that child marriages under 18 years unconstitutional and abolished the customary and religious practice allowing for it. He said the country also has an obligation to uphold the Model Law on Eradicating Child Marriage and Protecting Children Already in Marriage adopted by SADC Parliamentary Forum on June 3, 2016.

The model law requires member states to harmonise their national laws to prevent child marriages by providing guidance to parliamentarians, ministers of justice, policy makers and other stakeholders on how best to go about developing national laws. On the proposed amendment, the civil societies want, amongst other things, that the law clearly state that no minor nor person below the age of 18 years are allowed to marry.




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