SADC model law key step towards ending child marriages

Justice for Children Trust Director, Caleb Mutandwa, believes the SADC Model law on child marriages that was adopted by the regional bloc in winter is a key stepping stone towards an end to cases of child marriages.

Justice for Children Trust Director, Caleb Mutandwa

Justice for Children Trust Director, Caleb Mutandwa

On June 3rd, 2016, The Southern African Development Community Parliamentary Forum (SADC-PF) adopted the Model Law on Eradicating Child Marriage and Protecting Children Already in Marriage.

The 39th Plenary Assembly meeting in Swaziland,  SADC-PF adopted the first ever model law on child marriage in the region which will require member states to harmonise their national laws to prevent child marriages in support of the African Union Campaign to End Child Marriage in a Generation.

The Plenary Assembly is the highest decision-making body of the SADC-PF, the deliberative forum that brings together National Parliaments from 14 SADC Member States and approximately 3,500 Parliamentarians.The Model Law will provide guidance to parliamentarians, ministries of justice, policymakers, and other stakeholders in SADC countries as they develop national laws.

In an exclusive interview with this reporter, Mutandwa who is also one of the reputable legal brains fighting for child rights, said the SADC model law on child marriages is a key step towards child marriages which must see the government walking the talk on the subject.

“The SADC model law on child marriages, as the name suggests, provides a model for any country that is serious on eradicating child marriage. It is premised on human rights commitments which states, including Zimbabwe, have assumed by ratifying and acceding to international human rights treaties,” he said.

Mutandwa whose organisation is  a non-profit making  one and was founded in 2002 by a group of registered lawyers to provide free legal services to minors in civil and criminal cases, added that

Zimbabwe must now go beyond the stage of simply adopting the SADC law and practically put together necessary legislation on child marriages.

Said Mutandwa: “That Zimbabwe has adopted this Model shows commitment to fight child marriage which should be taken further and expressed in national laws. We therefore expect Zimbabwe to go further than the Constitutional Court judgment in Mudzuru and enact laws that protect children from child marriage.”

Zimbabwe joined the AU Campaign to end child marriages in mid-2015. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development with support from UNICEF, UNWOMEN, UNFPA, the Child Rights and Women’s Rights Coalitions has been working on a National Action Plan to End Child Marriages and its related communication for development activities. The Constitutional Court ruling of January 2016 has been an impetus to move the agenda forward.   All these efforts are part of the global campaign to end child marriages.

Mutandwa said the adoption of the SADC model law on child marriages is also critical in that it will give the courts an edge when dealing with related cases.

“The adoption is also critical as it provides the courts in Zimbabwe with persuasive authority when dealing with child marriages and related issues,”  he said.

The lawyer challenged the civic society and the media to use the model law in advocating for the end to child marriages saying; “Further, civic society organizations and the media can use the Model in advocacy and educational campaigns on the issue of child marriage.”

One aspect that has been given credit on the model law is how it seeks to go beyond preventing child marriages by placing measures of protecting children who are already child brides.  Mutandwa concurred with this assertion.

“The Model Law is also critical in that it is comprehensive, dealing with measures to prevent child marriage as well as to protect children already in marriage. It recognizes that States have to do more than enacting laws. For instance, measures should be taken to ensure the right to education for all children and address issues such as poverty which push many girls into marriage,” he said.

Ms. Justine Coulson, UNFPA’s Deputy Regional Director for East and Southern Africa, hailed the SADC model law.

“Child marriage mostly affects girls in rural areas, the uneducated or under-educated and those from the poorest households in SADC and other African countries. It is therefore, a glaring evidence of societal failure to provide equal protection, opportunities and services to all adolescents”, she said.

“The involvement of civil society and girls affected by child marriage is critical to ensuring the SADC Model Law helps protect millions of adolescent girls who face child marriage. We are pleased to see that young girls, civil society organisations and advocates will soon have the backing of the law to end a practice which deprives millions of girls of the future they deserve,” added Ms. Heather Hamilton, Interim Executive Director of Girls Not Brides.

Child marriage affects 70 million girls in the world. The East and Southern Africa alone harbours seven million child brides. The SADC-PF and other partners developed the model law in response to the high prevalence of child marriage in Southern Africa, which is largely driven by high poverty levels, gender inequity, traditions, religion, and limited educational opportunities for girls.

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