Spotlight on child marriages
STAKEHOLDERS have called for more concerted efforts to stem child marriages in Lesotho which retard educational development and lead to high infant and maternal mortalities.
This was said during Day of the African Child (DAC) commemorations on Tuesday in Mapoteng, HaMakhoroana. DAC is celebrated on 16 June every year since 1991, and was initiated by the then Organisation of African Unity (now African Union). It honours those who participated in the Soweto Uprising in 1976 on that day. It also raises awareness of the continuing need for improvement of the education provided to African children.
The global theme for this year’s commemorations was “Twenty-five Years after the Adoption of the Af- rican Children’s Charter: Accelerating our Collective Efforts to End Child Marriage in Africa”.
According to United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Representative to Lesotho, Tesfaye Shiferaw, the theme challenges the country to effectively address issues of violence against children in the country.
“Marriage before the age of 18 is a fundamental violation of human rights, but is all too common,” Dr Shiferaw said.
“According to the African Children’s Charter, child marriage violates all the four cardinal principles of child rights namely: the principles of non-discrimination, the best interest of the child, life, survival and development, participation and a number of other rights protected under the charter.
“Apart from violating the fundamental human rights associated with marriage, girls aged between 15 to 19 years are faced with maternal death and illness as a result of pregnancy and child birth.
“Child brides are prone to disabilities related to early child birth such as obstetric fistula, sexuallytransmitted infections including HIV and AIDS.”
Dr Shiferaw added that child marriages compromised a girl’s development as a result of early pregnancy and social isolation.
“It interrupts a girl’s schooling, limits her opportunities for career and vocational advancement and places her at increased risk of domestic violence,” noted Dr Shiferaw.
“Child marriage also affects boys but to a lesser degree than girls.”
He said many factors collided to put a girl at risk of early marriage such as poverty, the perception that marriage will provide “protection”, family honour, social norms, customary or religious laws that condone the practice, an inadequate legislative framework and the state of a country’s civil registration system.
“The weak enforcement of laws at the national level also contributes to the incidence of child marriage,” said Dr Shiferaw.
“According to some reports, Lesotho has relatively high prevalence of child marriage in 15 to 19-year-olds at 20 percent and a significant teenage pregnancy rate of 15 percent as well as an adolescent birth rate of nine per 1 000 on 15 to 19-year-olds.”
Also speaking at the event, Minister of Social Development Molahlehi Letlotlo said child marriage had negative repercussions that curtailed their independence and human rights. He said education plays a critical role in empowering children with knowledge and skills for future roles and responsibilities.
“Youth is a delicate flower that needs to be taken care of, let us cherish it by not engaging in marital activities at an early age,” Mr Letlotlo said, adding that it also hindered efforts to achieve the eight Millennium Development Goals.
“I urge my ministry and development partners to work together in fighting this scourge because it is doing a lot of harm to our children who are the future of the country.”
He added that child marriage was outlawed under such international instruments such as the right to free and full consent to a marriage.
Mr Letlotlo said: “Child marriage is also prohibited in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention of the Child (CRC).”