On the 30th of November 2017, I had the honor of being selected alongside three other young people from the Southern African region to participate in a meeting organised by the SRHR Trust and the AU Reference Group on Ending Child Marriage, the meeting was aimed at finding ways to engage young people on the issue of Ending Child Marriage.
During the meeting we acknowledged that there is a role young people can play in policy change and legal reform, and that this could be done by giving them a seat at the table notwithstanding that young people also have the responsibility to claim that seat and fight for it.
The issue of Child Marriages across the African Continent have been normalised for many centuries, and often masked under the notion of ‘tradition’. Before even speaking on the tradition aspect the very term ‘Child Marriage’ needs to be done away with, and as was stated by the AUC Goodwill Ambassador on Ending Child Marriage, Mma Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, “It’s not Child marriage, it’s CHILD ABUSE”
By a stroke of luck, the SADC Parliamentary Forum had one of its sessions in a conference room opposite ours. There were various engagements on the topic, and one thing I will always be grateful for is being given an opportunity by the AUC Goodwill Ambassador to address the forum as there was no representative from Botswana, so often times, our state of affairs on social ills remains unknown when there is no representation.
There has been the development and adoption of the SADC Model Law on Eradicating Child Marriages and Protecting Children Already in Marriage, now the order of the day and our primary aim as Civil Society Organisations should be to ensure that it is domesticated into our laws, in all our respective States. This is more especially in relation to countries like Botswana with a dual legal system.
In my opinion, the issue of Early Child marriages in Botswana are not treated with much seriousness and urgency as opposed to countries such as Malawi, Zambia etc. This could possibly be attributed to the fact that most affected regions are those in the Okavango, Ngamiland and Kgalagadi regions, and these communities are highly traditional and cultural. They are somewhat secluded from the rest of the “developed” parts of the country who know their basic human rights.
Marrying off young girls to older men is often done for economic reasons, as the man usually pays the bride price and continues supporting the family, but what families do not understand is that depriving the girl child from getting educated will only just create a generational cycle of poverty, moreover it is harmful to her health. We do not pay due regard to young girls Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights. More often than not these young women are infected with STD s from these older men who are supposedly their “saviors”.
It is quite integral to bring different representatives of Civil Societies around Botswana to collaborate and advocate for Ending Child Marriage as a collective. There is need for us to build an open and transparent relationship between the AU, SADC, Civil Societies and the Community to better address issues of Child Marriages in Botswana especially in the more affected regions.
There is need to sensitise youth and mobilise them in a way that gives them a voice as the issue of child marriage in Africa affects young people directly. Moreover, we need media practitioners to rally behind us and to find ways to facilitate wide engagement this issue. There can never be policy change if we just sit and hope for the best.