Worldwide each year, 15 million girls are married before the age of 18. Child brides are mostly disempowered, dependent on their husbands and deprived of their fundamental rights to health, education and safety. With little access to education and economic opportunities, they and their families are more likely to live in poverty.
AWEPA’s engagement with the issue of child marriage dates back to 2012 when the organisation joined the Girls not Brides campaign. This campaign was initiated by the Elders and its Chair, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who is also Honorary Chair of AWEPA’s Eminent Advisory Board. Since then different activities have been implemented, mostly under the AWEPA/ Plan Nederland project entitled “No, I don’t”. The overall objective of the parliamentary component of this project is to facilitate the creation of an enabling legal and policy environment to protect girls from child marriage.
Under the framework of the AWEPA/Plan Netherlands “No, I don’t” project, AWEPA – in cooperation with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Parliamentary Forum, the parliaments concerned and Plan local offices – implemented three parliamentary activities: a regional dialogue on child marriage in Johannesburg (February 2015) and two national follow workshops in Zambia (June 2015) and Mozambique (December 2015). The objectives of these three activities was to sensitise members of the SADC Parliamentary Forum on the issue of child marriage and its consequences, and to encourage these members to commit to take action within their respective parliament to condemn child marriage as a violation of the rights of girls with respect to their health, education and childhood.
Example of activities and their impacts
The SADC Regional Dialogue on Child Marriage Laws took place in February 2015, and brought together 39 participants. These included the Secretary General of the SADC Parliamentary Forum; Members of Parliament and parliamentary staff from Malawi, Mauritius, Zambia and Zimbabwe; legal practitioners; representatives of regional and international NGOs; human rights activists; and advocates and representatives of Plan, the SADC Parliamentary Forum and AWEPA.
As the main outcome of the Regional Dialogue, the process of drafting the “SADC Model Law on Eradicating Child Marriage and Protecting Children Already in Marriage” was kicked off. This Model Law was drafted in order to tackle issues of child marriage, focusing on marriageable age, prevention, protection, and care for children.
Furthermore, the Dialogue received extensive media coverage in newspapers, internet and on television. In addition SADC Parliamentary Forum dedicated an entire edition of the Sentinel (the official newsletter of the Human and Social Development and Special Programmes of the SADC-Parliamentary Forum) to the Regional Dialogue.
The Regional Dialogue was followed by two national workshops in Zambia and Mozambique. During the Zambia workshop the draft Model Law was further discussed and in Mozambique it was presented to the participants. During the debate it was stated that, since Mozambique was yet to approve any specific law on child marriage, the country could draw inspiration and guidance from the Model Law once it came into force.
The Model Law was adopted in June 2016 during the Plenary Assembly of SADC Parliamentary Forum. The Law is intended to act as 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 children already in marriage. Its main 0objective is to harmonise the region’s national laws, eradicate loopholes, and ultimately contribute to eradicating child marriage across the entire region within a generation.
Other results of the national workshops include, for example, a private Members Motion passed in July 2015 by one of the MPs who participated in the workshop in Zambia, which “urge[d] Government to expedite the enactment of the law criminalising child marriage”. As a result of the Mozambique workshop, AWEPA was invited to join, and is now a member of, the National Coalition to end Child Marriage.