Experts grapple with tough questions
JOHANNESBURG — A group of experts representing key institutions working on policy and legal issues related to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), children’s rights, women’s rights and HIV and AIDS met in Johannesburg, South Africa last week to review a draft Southern African Development Community (SADC) Model Law on Child Marriage.
The meeting, held from 10-11 August, was the first in a series planned to enable stakeholders to comment on the SADC model Law on Child Marriage whose development the SADC Parliamentary Forum is spearheading.
During the meeting, the approximately 10 experts pored over the draft model law as well as a related position paper line by line and made extensive comments and recommendations which will be incorporated. The aim is to ensure that once the SADC Model Law on Child Marriage has been fully developed, it can be used to effectively prohibit, prevent and respond to all forms of child marriage, which currently affects millions of girls in southern Africa and beyond.
After the meeting, the experts were upbeat. Professor Ann Skelton, the Director of the Centre for Child Law at the University of Pretoria, said the meeting was necessary to remove grey areas, ensure that the proposed model law is consistent with regional and international instruments related to child marriage and to make it serve the nest interests of the children it seeks to protect.
“I thought the meeting grappled with some tough questions, the central one being where will ensure in parliaments across the region. The Experts Team is generally a group of likeminded people who agree on the principals. However, the engaging debate that ensued reminded me that while we agree on the problem and indeed the end goal, it is important to critically assess the nuances and to remember that there are no easy answers.”
Dr Aquinaldo Celio Mondlate, a researcher specialising in Children’s rights said the meeting was a great platform to reflect about the problems that affect children involved child marriage and its negative consequences.
“It was interesting to learn about the sensitivities around the issues relating to child marriage, mainly the challenges in ensuring that the situation of children who are currently involved in child marriage is not worsened when SADC Member States incorporate provisions of the model law in their national laws. Concerns raised also included the fact that there is a need to safeguard the rights of children who are involved or affected by child marriage including the children born out of child marriage,” Mondlate said.
Dr Asha Mohamud, UNFPA East and Southern Africa Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Policy Advisor with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) which is one of the institutions supporting SADC PF in the development of the model law, sounded excited and optimistic.
She stressed the importance for all interested parties to maintain the momentum to ensure that the draft model law is shared widely and finalised soon. — Special Correspondent