By Itumeleng Lipala
Child early forced marriage and unions are a violation of human rights that excessively affects adolescent girls. Child marriage is a form and caused of gender based violence that has profound and little-changing impacts on children, their families and subsequent generations. It ends childhood and it influences the children’s rights to education, health and protection in a negative way.
A girl who is married as a child is more likely to be out of school, not even earning any income and contributing to the community. Married girls are denied the freedom to make critical decisions about their own lives. They are at risk of an early end to their social isolation, ongoing exposure to violence and risks of death and disability associated with adolescent pregnancy. They are also at higher risk of physical and sexual violence. The research shows that bodies of children who get into early marriages are not fit enough to carry babies. Child marriage is driven by gender inequality and the belief that women and girls are somehow inferior to men and boys. Poverty, lack of access to education and insecurity are other root causes of child marriage.
According to ‘Girls Not Brides’ a global network of more than 1,600 civil society organizations from over 100 countries committed to ending child marriage and ensuring girls can reach their full potential; 16% of girls in Lesotho are married before the age of 18 and 1% are married even before their 15th birthday. Only 2% of boys in the country are married before their 18th birthdays, and we keep on wondering as the nations if ever the child marriage will end sooner. Why is it that some people have to suffer in their own country even though there are those in charge who can actually take charge and control such situations?
The national and community leaders should take action in ending child marriage in the country. It is everyone’s right to protect children against all form of abuse, including early marriage and ensuring that legal action is take against perpetrators of early marriage. For how long are we going to endure the pain of watching our sisters, daughters and friends being married by their rapists through customary marriage?
The Marriage Act No.10 of 1947 states that no person may be compelled to enter into a contract of marriage with any other person or to marry against their wish. No boy under the age of eighteen years and no girl under the age of sixteen years shall be capable of contracting a valid marriage except with the written permission of the Minister, which he may grant in any particular case in which he considers such marriage desirable; provided that such permission shall not relieve the parties to the proposed marriage from the obligation to comply with all other requirements prescribed by law.
Any marriage officer who knowingly solemnizes a marriage in contravention of the provisions of this Act shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding two hundred Maloti or in default payment, to imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year or to both such fine and imprisonment.
Every child has the right to dream and achieve their fullest potential. However, child marriages rob them off this very basic right and go on to deprive them off their childhood, adolescence, mental and physical well being. Child marriage involving adolescent girls significantly impacts their physical, social and psychological well being and has profound both short and long term consequences on health and their livelihood.
The information gathered from the Human Resource Office at the Police Headquarters shows that they have dealt with 67 cases of child marriage since the 1st April 2022 until the 31st March 2023.