Sadc drafters approve model law on eradicating child marriage

Special Correspondent
LEGAL drafters from Sadc member states have approved the draft Model Law on Eradicating Child Marriage and Protecting Children Already in Marriage, setting the stage for its final adoption by the Plenary Assembly of the Sadc Parliamentary Forum.

The Plenary Assembly Session 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.

Drawn from Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Zambia, the legal drafters met over five days in Johannesburg, South Africa to review the draft model law to ensure its compliance with international legal drafting codes and efficacy to the policy and legal objective of eradicating child marriage which is a serious concern in the Sadc region.

The legal drafters went through the draft model law clause by clause before they approved it. Renowned Botswana High Court judge Prof Oagile Dingake, who holds a PhD in law, facilitated the validation session.

The approval by the legal drafters signals the penultimate stage before the adoption of the model law by parliamentarians from Sadc national parliaments who are scheduled to meet in Swaziland in June 2016 for the 39th Plenary Assembly Session of the Sadc-PF.

With funding from Sweden and Norway, the Sadc-PF and other partners developed the model law in response to the prevalence of child marriage in Southern Africa, which is driven by a number of factors including high poverty levels, gender inequity, traditions, religion, limited education and inadequate legal frameworks in member states, most of which are inconsistent.

Research shows that an estimated 8 percent of all pregnancies are teenage pregnancies and 16 percent of all births in the sub-region are teenage pregnancies. In addition, 36 percent of all maternal deaths involve teenagers while unsafe abortions are responsible for 13 percent of maternal deaths.

This paints a bleak picture in a region in which scores of people including adolescents have poor access to Sexual Reproductive Health Rights services.

Sadc-PF’s efforts to develop and adopt a regional model law on eradicating child marriage and protecting children already in marriage has received support from the United Nations Population Fund East and Southern Africa Regional Office, United Nations Development Programme, the Association of European Parliamentarians with Africa (AWEPA), Plan International’s 18 Plus Programme, the Southern African Litigation Centre and Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage.

The process to develop the model law started in 2015 and has involved wide consultations with various stakeholders in Sadc member states at regional level including victims of child marriages, Parliamentarians, civil society organisations and Human Rights Commissions.

Expectations are that when adopted, the model law will be a yardstick providing guidance to legislators, policymakers and other stakeholders in Sadc member states as they develop national laws to eradicate child marriages and protect those already in marriage.

The inspirational law has best practice provisions, making it easy for member states to adapt or adopt it in keeping with their national situations. The ultimate aim is that the region’s national laws are harmonised without loopholes to prevent child marriage.

Speaking at the end of the validation session, Judge Dingake said Africa and sub-Saharan Africa in particular, would not develop if child marriages continued to subsist. He said no parliament in the Sadc region should pass any law permitting child marriage and to foster development in its broadest sense, Sadc legislators must honour rights of all children without distinction based on irrational grounds.

“It falls on the current generation of drafters to ensure that in drafting they use simple (language) and avoid ambiguity that may, when interpreted, disadvantage rights holders, more particularly children.

“Legal drafters must remain ultra-sensitive to diversity, difference and their countries’ international law obligations and ensure that this is reflected in the laws they draft,” the judge said.

He stressed that it was “absolutely imperative” that legal drafters understand their obligations to the broader society, especially the vulnerable.

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