HARARE, ZIMBABWE: Zimbabwe's Vice President, Emmerson Mnangagwa on Saturday (12 November, 2016) officially launched the SADC Model Law on Eradicating Child Marriage and Protecting those Already in Marriage, paving the way for the domestication of this groundbreaking law by SADC Member States.
Speaking to approximately Members of Parliament from 13 SADC Member States who included Speakers of National Parliaments, the Vice President, who also officially opened the 40th Plenary Assembly Session of the SADC PF in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, described the day on which the Model Law was launched as a great day in the history of the SADC Region.
"Today will go down in the annals of history as the day that our Members of Parliament set aside political and other differences to resoundingly say NO to child marriage by delivering a Model Law that will no doubt provide guidance to all our Member States as they develop or refine their own national laws to eradicate child marriage," he said to thunderous applause.
Describing child marriage as an "embarrassing scourge", Mnangagwa, who is also the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, noted that it had taken SADC PF and its partners nearly two years to develop the Model Law with so much commonality that it could easily be adopted or adapted as Member States reform, develop legal instruments and policies to eradicate child marriage.
"It has been a long journey marked by widespread consultations involving many stakeholders including legal drafters, our own MPs, civil society organisations and even our judges who enriched the Model Law," he said before outlining six detailed steps taken to develop the Model Law before the 39 th SADC PF Plenary Assembly Session which took place in Ezulwini, Swaziland on the 3rd of June, 2016, unanimously adopted it.
A lawyer, the Vice President said Model Law provides evidence-based guidance on how the SADC Region can address child marriage, especially in the face of inadequate or sometimes conflicting related legal instruments.
"Based on the latest evidence, the Model Law will no doubt be a valuable sounding board to countries as they reform, develop or revitalize their laws related to child marriage and its impact."
Noting that child marriage was a global problem, he urged SADC Member States to unite against the phenomenon lest they fail to benefit from the demographic dividend.
He said Zimbabwe, like other SADC Member States opposed child marriage, with the country's President Robert Mugabe determined to keep all children in school.
Mnangagwa said the Model Law would be distributed to Parliaments and other interested stakeholders in the SADC countries, especially relevant Government Ministries and Departments.
"It also needs to be presented to the SADC Secretariat for consideration to be transformed into a SADC Protocol on Child Marriage."
He urged SADC PF to hold workshops with key stakeholders in SADC Member States to popularize the Model Law and work with the media in this regard.
"Our Member States need to take a hard look at child-related marriage laws they have in their countries and pass relevant laws. More importantly, Members of Parliament can and must use their oversight role to ensure that National budgets support implementation of laws and policies in their countries to eradicate child marriage and support those already in marriage."
Speaking at the same launch, SADC PF Deputy President, Malawi lawmaker Joseph Njobvuyalema said the new Model Law might encourage SADC Member States to be accountable in the execution of policies, the enactment of laws and in coming up with strategic plans and measures aimed at eradicating child marriage, protecting children already in marriage and ensuring SRHRs of young persons.
"We are convinced that the creation of a robust and uniform legal framework relating to child marriage is key to addressing child marriage and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights," he said.
Njobvuyalema said regional and international treaties require countries to set the minimum age of marriage at 18, register all marriages and take effective action, including legislation, to eradicate child marriage.
"I call upon all MPs in our region to do all within their power to move towards implementing laws and policies that are relevant to our national settings to eradicate child marriage. This Model Law obliges Member States to provide in national legislation for intervention programmes to support child brides or wives and their families."
Among other things the SADC Model Law on Eradicating Child Marriage and Protecting those already in Marriage promotes earlier and more frequent use of family planning; HIV and AIDS and maternal health services; educational and economic opportunities to help break the cycle of inequality, illiteracy, illness and poverty that frequently perpetuate child marriage.
It provides, also, for comprehensive sexuality education and provides for collection of data on the number and status of children already in marriage, including the child's education, access to resources, health care, education, information and entertainment and the socio-economic status of the family.