SOUTH AFRICA NEEDS TO DO MORE TO ELIMINATE CHILD MARRIAGES
South Africa, along with the rest of the African continent, celebrated the Day of the African Child on 16 June 2015 under the theme "25 Years after the Adoption of the African Children's Charter: Accelerating our Collective Efforts to End Child Marriage in Africa". The African Children's Charter places an obligation on governments to prohibit any custom, traditional, religious or cultural practices that interfere with the rights and welfare of children. Child marriages jeopardise the safety and well-being of children, it exposes them to health risks and risks of harm and violence.
Recent media reports give sad accounts of girls who are not safe in their communities and homes. They tell of, amongst others, a 14 year old girl who was married off, by her parents, to a man 12 years older than her who raped her and beat her for trying to escape.
Girls are also denied the right to access basic education. The case of S v Jezile is an example of this, the Centre's attorney, Karabo Ozah, made the following comment at the time the judgment was handed down in March 2015:
"...The victim of Jezile's crimes was in her school uniform when she was told to change into 'makoti' (bride's) clothing and in that moment she was forced to relinquish all her children's rights and become an adult. This is a story of failure by family, community and society to protect its own children."
The Centre calls for urgent legislative attention that: strengthens provisions that protect children against harmful cultural practices; ensures a clear and harmonised minimum age of marriage; and clearly criminalises child and forced marriages.
The Centre is also aware that that this issue goes beyond the need for legislative amendments. There need to be more strategic and directed advocacy campaigns that inform communities of the dangers and legal consequences of child marriages and that address the factors that drive parents and families to giv eout girl children to child marriages.
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