Member of Parliament (MP) for Selebi-Phikwe West, Dithapelo Keorapetse will table the Marriage Amendment Bill in the next session of Parliament which seeks amongst others, the reduction of the age of consent to marry from the age of 21 to 18 to harmonise it with the Children’s Act.
The private member Bill was gazetted on December 14, 2018 and is likely to be debated by Parliament this year.
The objective of the Bill is to amend certain sections of the Marriage Act to make it consistent with the Convention on the Rights of a Child and the best interest of the child theme of the Children’s Act (Cap.28:04) and to address the rights of persons with mental illness and those of different religious backgrounds. Currently, the Marriage Act prescribes that a person between the ages of 18-20 requires the consent of their guardian to marry.
But the Umbrella for Democratic (UDC) legislator says that this is inconsistent with the Children’s Act, which says that at 18, one is an adult who can make his/her own decisions. The Bill also seeks to give fathers to children born out of wedlock to give consent when their children aged between 18 and 21 wish to marry.
It amends Section 15 of the Marriage Act by deleting it to ensure that child marriages are totally prohibited.
“We further note that the Marriage Act, in a case in where persons between the 18 and 21 wishes to marry, discriminates against fathers of children born out of wedlock as it does not require their consent but that of their mothers only,” Keorapetse said.
This, he said, goes against the Children’s Act in that it demands that both parents be involved in the life of the child, and in particular, be part of the affairs concerning the child as
“I therefore recommend to Parliament that in the event that the proposal to reduce the age of consent to marry to 18, the said section be amended to require the consent of both parents, irrespective of their marital status or irrespective of the circumstances of the children’s birth,” he said.
The Bill also seeks to do away with unpalatable and near derogatory language of ‘insane’ person and allows for persons with mental illness to have a presumption of capacity to consent to marry so that anyone who alleges that such a person does not have the necessary capacity, would by that, cause a marriage officer to require a medical examination of the said marriage party.
Furthermore, the Bill seeks to prohibit marriage of children under the age of 18 who are married in accordance with customary law or religion.
According to Keorapetse, the Marriage Act does not apply to such marriages in so far as the essentials of the marriages are concerned but only deals with essential elements of a civil marriage.
Marriage Act does not deal with the validity of such religions or cultural marriages. “It is also common cause that child marriages have effects on the child’s access to education due to the responsibilities that they must now shoulder in the household.
In that regard, most children in this position drop out of school which in turn, has implications on their competitiveness for the job market,” he said.