Member of Parliament for Selibe-Phikwe West Dithapelo Keorapetse is proposing that child marriages should be abolished.The Marriage Act prescribes that a person between the ages of 18 and 20 requires the consent of their guardian or parent to marry.
According to Keorapetse the Bill prohibits the marriages of persons under the age of 18, consistent with the Interpretation Act (Cap 01:04) and the Children’s Act. The Bill amends Section 15 of the Marriage Act by deleting it to ensure that child marriages are totally prohibited.
“As the UDC and other equally concerned Members of Parliament across the political divide, we are deeply concerned that our laws permit children under the age of 18 years to be married in accordance with customary law or any other religion, such as Islam, Christianity or Hinduism,” said Keorapetse.He said they are fortified in their view by the fact that the Marriage Act does not apply to such marriages in so far as the essentials of the marriages are concerned. The Marriage Act only deals with the essential elements of a civil marriage.
Keorapetse also explained that civil Marriage Act does in fact recognise such marriages and that the Marriage Act will not deal with the validity of such religions or cultural marriages. The Bill further proposes that the Marriage Act be amended to require the consent of both parents irrespective of their marital status or irrespective of the circumstances of the children.
The issue of child marriages is an issue that has been troubling the SADC region for a while now. In Zimbabwe for instance, the constitutional court, - the highest court in the land - declared marriages of children under 18 years of age unconstitutional and abolished the customary and religious practices allowing for it.
In 2016, the Southern African Development Community Parliamentary Forum (SADC-PF) adopted a Model Law on Eradicating Child Marriage and Protecting Children Already in Marriage.The Model Law on child marriage requires member states, including Botswana, to harmonise their national laws to prevent child marriages, which is consistent with the African Union Campaign to End Child Marriage in a Generation.
The Model Law provides guidance to parliamentarians, ministries of justice, policymakers, and other stakeholders in SADC countries on how best to go about developing the national laws. Its primary aim is to eliminate several inconsistencies and gaps in the current laws that enable girls to be brides. “We have consequently drawn heavily from the Model Law in the proposed amendments we have developed accompanying this position paper”.