ConCourt ruling commendable

IT is a truism that the humanity of a society is reflected in the manner in which it treats its weaker members — particularly children.

It is against this backdrop that we hail the Constitutional Court (ConCourt) for its sober decision to outlaw child marriages.

There is no doubt that child marriage is a monster that for decades had been sustained by Section 22(1) of the Marriage Act, which allowed children under the age of 18 years to formally get married for as long as their parents or guardians consented to the union.

This gave rise to rampant abuse of girls in the country, particularly within apostolic sects where elderly men could marry off — or marry — teenage girls, most of whom were not even ready for marriage.

The fact that the ruling specifically states that children under the age of 18 will not be allowed to enter into any union, including those arising out of religion or religious rite, must be commended, to say the least.

child-marriage west africa

It was a worrisome trend where some malcontents were now using religion as a ruse for men to cherry-pick promising young girls and derail their entire future as they turned them into bride mothers.

No doubt the Customary Marriages Act — which legalised marriages for underage girls — clearly infringed on the constitutional rights of young girls and boys who were getting married at an early age, sometimes even against their will. Therefore, the Concourt ruling brings sanity into a three-tier marriage system that bred confusion due to lack of a single, comprehensive law.

Young girls who got pregnant outside of wedlock were traditionally forced by their families to elope to the culprit and others ended up living miserable lives of rejection in the new unwelcoming families. Is it, therefore, not heartening that the court has put an end to that as an underage girl would no longer be forced into marriage but remain under the custody of her parents?

We believe this is indeed a progressive judgment which should be used as a torchbearer for other countries, particularly in Africa, where the scourge of child brides is widespread and millions of the young girls have no recourse to justice.

Several studies have demonstrated that early marriages have largely been responsible for perpetuating the cycle of poverty and an increase in both maternal and child mortality.

Indeed, the ruling will go a long way in preserving the sexual reproductive health and human rights of minors below the age of 18 — rights that had been trampled on and proved difficult to defend because of discordant laws.

It is hoped that with the ruling, the Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs ministry will see to it that the requisite laws are aligned to the country’s governance charter without delay.

This was undeniably a landmark ruling demonstrating that the fight to protect children’s rights can be won.

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  1. This law is good but not enough I think sex with a person below 18 should be outlawed, because the law can not be seen to be punishing parents for other people’s deeds. If not then teenage pregnancies will continue, l think thats where the bigger problem lies

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  3. The ruling will not mean much if the traditional practice of marrying off minor children is not criminalised.Not every child marriage is registered as most of them are done traditionally which means that our traditional leaders, Councillors included, must now take a leading role in educating their communities as well as exposing the offending adults and family members.Otherwise the ruling may go unnoticed in some communities like Johanne Marange’s vapositori.

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  5. I am not rushing to embrace the judgement of the concourt as long as there are glaring loopholes surrounding that judgement. The age of consent is sixteen. The girls or boys within that age can go into sex resulting in unwanted pregnancies. Since the state has seen it fit to bar marriage below 18, it must take responsibility of those pregnancies. The same court must therefore not force parents to help as the court has taken over the role of the parenthood. The wisdom in sitting, discussing and coming with an arrangement of marriage was to ensure the injured part and resulting child would be taken care of. If the person is old enough to consent having sex, why is the same person not old enough to marry? Sex is supposed to be for the married not the younger and under age. I completely agree with the court where forced marriage of minors involved picking one’s daughter to marry Tom whether old or younger without the girl’s consent. I am of the opinion that the court could have outlined the difference between the two situations. Again it is common knowledge that the age of 16 girls or boys will have gone through the biological transformation into womanhood or manhood. Therefore shifting the age of consent to 18 is like trying to wind the biological clock forward which is impossible. As long as the girl within the age of consent agreed to the union, I don’t see the reason why the court should be the stumbling block. Remember the same girl will go elsewhere, get pregnant and come home and say “mum I am pregnant and there is nothing you can do about it.” It would be prudent for judges and lawyers to thoroughly study and analyse the wisdom of our cultures and traditions because in many cases that wisdom helped many a community maintain their integrity and decency.

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