Parly urges reform of marriage laws
THE National Assembly has adopted a resolution calling for the government to step up efforts to end child marriages by reforming marriage laws and other policies.
The resolution was made on Monday after Rothe Member of Parliament (MP) ‘Manthabiseng Phohleli, said cases of child marriage were escalating.
The legislator said statistics from the Ministry of Social Development revealed at least 1 742 girls were married before the age of 18, while at least 1 567 adolescents dropped out of school due to pregnancy.
Ms Phohleli said the time had come for the government to intensify efforts to end child marriages by reforming marriage laws and related legislation to ensure they are in line with international and regional human rights instruments.
“I raise this motion worried by the alarming rate of child marriages in this country. Both international and continental laws state that anyone below the age of 18 is referred to as a child,” the MP said.
Increasing cases of child marriage and pregnancy were seriously impacting on the victims’ personal and academic development.
“What is also shocking is that 40 percent of underage girls in the SADC region go into early marriages. According to UNICEF, 19 percent of underage girls in Lesotho entered into child marriages,” said Ms Phohleli.
“As the House, we need to fight for the rights of these children by ensuring that laws are put in place to protect them. Child marriages have many negative consequences for this nation.”
The legislator also pointed out such marriages were contributing to high maternal and child mortalities since the bodies of teenage girls would be ill-equipped for the task of carrying a baby and giving birth.
“Child marriages have negative impacts on the bodies of the victims ranging from illness, loss of life during pregnancy and when giving birth, because their tiny bodies are not yet fully developed to perform such duties,” she said.
“UNICEF studies have revealed that underage mothers die more frequently during pregnancy and birth compared to female adults.”
Ms Phohleli said the practice compromised efforts to improve the lives of Basotho and hampered efforts to attain Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) which are an intergovernmental set of aspirations to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice by the year 2030. SDG number three, titled Good Health and Wellbeing, seeks to ensure healthy lives for all.
Home Affairs Minister Lekhetho Rakuoane then asked Ms Phohleli if child marriages were on the increase because there were no laws prohibiting them or because they were fueled by cultural norms.
In her response, Ms Phohleli said marriage laws needed to complement, rather than contradict each other.
She said customary Lerotholi laws state if a child is raped, the decision to sue the perpetrator lies solely with the parents who might decide to negotiate with the abuser.
“The truth of the matter is we hide these atrocities in the name of culture, hence my call for this house to urge the government to enact laws that will prevent child marriages,” said Ms Phohleli.