Parly urged to protect the girl child

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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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