SADC Parliamentarians adopt Model Law on eradicating child marriage

Participants at the SADC parliamentary meeting on the Child Marriage Model Law on 3 June. | Photo credit | Plan International

Johannesburg–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. “The Model Law will address the most common problem of inconsistencies and gaps in the laws which weaken the sanction mechanisms available to law enforcement agencies across the region”, says Roland Angerer, Plan International Regional Director in the Eastern and Southern Africa. The Model Law eliminates several loop holes that make current laws ineffective and unenforceable including parental and judicial consent, and conflicts between customary and statuary laws.

“The Model Law will address the most common problem of inconsistencies and gaps in the laws which weaken the sanction mechanisms available to law enforcement agencies across the region”

Child marriage affects 70 million girls in the world. 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. “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”, noted Ms. Justine Coulson, UNFPA’s Deputy Regional Director for East and Southern Africa.

“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.

“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”

SADC PF’s efforts to develop and adopt a Regional Model Law has been supported by the United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA) East and Southern Africa Regional Office, Plan International’s 18+ Ending Child Marriage in Southern Africa Programme, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Association of European Parliamentarians with Africa (AWEPA), 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 those affected by child marriage, parliamentarians, ministries of justice, civil society organizations and human rights commissions.

“As partners, we applaud SADC PF for its commitment and foresight by adopting this best practice Model Law which will protect millions of adolescent girls from the negative consequences of child marriage. We now have to implement, implement and implement”, stated Ms. Nyasha Chingore of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC).