A VICIOUS cycle of poverty and being orphaned at a young age are the root causes of child marriages, which disproportionately affect girls in Lesotho.
Child marriage is both a cause and a consequence of poverty. On one hand, it causes poverty by disrupting schooling and consequently reducing employment opportunities.
On the other hand, adolescent mothers are highly likely to have poor health due to exposure to sexually-transmitted diseases and biological constraints.
This was said during a tour of Matelile in Ha Seeiso by Ministry of Social Development officials this past week to assess the needs of the area.
According to Mathula High School Acting Principal, Masefali Lejone, children were getting married at a young age to escape from poverty.
“In our schools, there are many dropouts because some of the children are orphans and vulnerable and they are not able to concentrate in class because of the challenges of hunger and not having schooling materials such as uniforms and stationery,” she said.
“When they don’t have proper school shoes like other children, they lose their confidence, and don’t want to come to school.”
Ms Lejone said others ended up in child marriages because they were already in child-headed households.
“For some, it’s just because they have no one to report to at home and get married at a very young age. The sad part about it all is that they end up making babies at a young age with the attendant health risks such as HIV and maternal health challenges.”
Adolescents, she said, were not physiologically or emotionally mature enough to be in a marriage.
“Such marriages are usually rocky because of lack of maturity. Many of them realise they have not escaped the problems they were avoiding by getting married in the first place.”
The ministry’s Senior District Child Welfare Officer for Mafeteng, Matebello Marite, urged the community to engage the ministry’s Child and Gender Protection Unit (CGPU) to address such challenges.
“In a case where a young girl falls pregnant and feels she can’t raise a child for various reasons, we can assist her in putting the baby for adoption either as guardians only or full-fledged parents,” she said.
“There are several departments in the Ministry of Social Development that attend to such issues as child marriages, violations of children’s rights as well as rights and wellbeing of people with disability just to mention a few.”