Par­lia­ment urged to pro­tect girl child

Lesotho Times - - News - Billy Ntaote

A CALL has been made for the Na­tional As­sem­bly to har­monise con­sti­tu­tional and cus­tom­ary laws to pro­tect young girls from child mar­riage as well as en­sur­ing their hu­man and re­pro­duc­tive rights.

This was said by Demo­cratic Congress Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment (MP) for Rothe con­stituency, Man­thabiseng Phohleli, dur­ing her ad­dress to the au­gust house on Mon­day.

Ms Phohleli was re­port­ing back on the res­o­lu­tions made dur­ing the South­ern African De­vel­op­ment Com­mu­nity Par­lia­men­tary Fo­rum (SADC-PF) Re­gional Women’s Par­lia­men­tary Cau­cus (RWPC) work­shop she at­tended with Le­sotho Congress for Democ­racy pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion MP, Mat­losa Le­busa. The work­shop, which was held from 24–26 Au­gust 2015 in Cape Town, South Africa was held un­der the theme “Early and Un­in­tended Preg­nancy Among Ado­les­cents: Pol­icy and Le­gal Bar­ri­ers”. Par­tic­i­pants were drawn from Botswana, Le­sotho, Swazi­land, Mozam­bique, Malawi, Mau­ri­tius, Namibia, South Africa, Zam­bia and Zim­babwe.

Ms Phohleli said the work­shop was meant to for­mu­late rec­om­men­da­tions to stem ado­les­cent preg­nan­cies and pro­tect ado­les­cent girls’ re­pro­duc­tive rights. The fo­rum, she said, noted the poor en­force­ment of laws in the re­gion pro­tect­ing young girls from child mar­riage, gen­der-based vi­o­lence, fe­male gen­i­tal mu­ti­la­tion and other harm­ful tra­di­tional prac­tices.

“In our case, we need to re­view con­tra­dic­tions be­tween con­sti­tu­tional and cus­tom­ary laws, es­pe­cially in re­la­tion to child mar­riage,” said Ms Phohleli.

“The con­tra­dic­tions we are talk­ing about are be­tween the Le­sotho Chil­dren’s Pro­tec­tion and Wel­fare Act (2011) that de­fines a child as below the age of 18 and pro­hibits child mar­riage, but the Mar­riage Act of 1974 which is still in force, al­lows girls of 16 and boys of 18 to marry.

“There is no min­i­mum age for cus­tom­ary mar­riages, al­though in terms of cus­tom­ary law it should be af­ter pu­berty.”

The leg­is­la­tor also noted that the coun­try needed to re­view laws and poli­cies gov­ern­ing the age of con­sent for HIV test­ing, treat­ment and ac­cess to sex­ual and re­pro­duc­tive health ser­vices.

“The risks of con­tract­ing sex­u­ally-trans­mit­ted in­fec­tions such as HIV and early and un­in­tended preg­nan­cies were bound to arise among young women at a stage when their phys­i­cal and bi­o­log­i­cal make up does not ac­com­mo­date for such a change,” she said.

“The in­ci­dence of early and un­in­tended preg­nan­cies was ex­ac­er­bated by lack of in­for­ma­tion, par­tic­u­larly among ru­ral and out of school ado­les­cents.

“Young par­ents are usu­ally so­cially iso­lated and their op­por­tu­ni­ties for education and em­ploy­ment were min­imised as they of­ten aban­doned their education to take up adult par­ent­ing roles.”

On her part, Ms Le­busa em­pha­sised the need for fe­male leg­is­la­tors to work to­gether to achieve com­mon ob­jec­tives.

“Dur­ing the work­shop, we re­alised that we did not co­a­lesce around the is­sues that af­fect us as women in our coun­try,” she said.

“We were urged to pro­vide lead­er­ship to the girl child to en­sure they have a bet­ter fu­ture and are not sus­cep­ti­ble to un­wanted preg­nan­cies. As MPS, we were also urged to talk openly at pub­lic gath­er­ings about re­pro­duc­tive health is­sues and the risks of con­tract­ing sex­u­ally-trans­mit­ted dis­eases.”

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