Spot­light on child mar­riages

Lesotho Times - - News - Lim­pho Sello

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).”

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