…as SADC child model law takes form
to find the fine balancing line between protecting girls (which seems to require an inflexible approach) and recognising their growing autonomy and right to develop relationships (which requires a flexible approach),” Skelton said in an interview.
She stressed that this tension was not uniquely found in the child marriage question, but was very acute in this debate.
“I am very happy that the expert group was clear about not criminalising children. It also appreciated the care taken to distinguish between pre-existing marriages (which it is proposed will be voidable at the instance of a party), and those that may occur after a prohibition of marriage law is passed (which will be automatically void).”
Mrs Ronaldah Lerato Karabo Ozah, an Attorney who also works at the Centre for Child Law at the University of Pretoria, said she was grateful to have been part of experts who had the opportunity to input on a document that is aimed at protecting girl children and towards the realisation of the rights to which they are entitled.
“I am mindful of the fact that the law, on its own, will not eradicate child marriage but will remind us all of our obligations to protect girl children and this is the responsibility of all -communities, lawyers as well religious and traditional leaders,” she said.
Ozah said the meeting was important as it enabled participants to input not only on the draft SADC Model Law on Child Marriage, but also the strategic way forward that will ensure that relevant individuals and groups are lobbied to garner support for the model law.
“Even if this takes a bit longer, it is crucial that we consult as widely as possible and get as much support for the model Law,” she said.
Ms Nyasha Chingore, a human rights lawyer who works at the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) said being part of the experts’ meeting was an “intriguing” experience.
“It was interesting to see how Expert Team members from varying backgrounds tried to negotiate the tensions that will inevitably arise in attempting to legislate in this area. While one would expect that considerations of ‘custom and religion’ and the impact of prohibition with sanctions would present challenges which are not easy to navigate, for me the stickiest point was figuring out how the Model law could recognize the evolving capacities of children without compromising the very essence of what the Model Law seeks to do - eradicate child marriage in any and all its forms,” she said.
Chingore cited the example of the discussion around whether the model law should leave room for any “loopholes” at all, including close in age considerations.
“The debate in the Experts Team is of course just a pre-cursor to the debates that