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Covid-19 fuelling child marriages: Doti


…Minister pledges to fight for new laws to criminalise child marriages

Koena Tšiame

ECONOMIC difficulties brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic are contributing to rising cases of child marriages in Lesotho, a cabinet minister has said.

Social Development Minister Matebatso Doti however, said regardless of the causes, the government remained opposed to child marriages.

Ms Doti said as soon as parliament opens from its winter break, she will table a bill to amend the Child Protection and Welfare Act to criminalise child marriages.

UNICEF defines child marriage “as a formal marriage or informal union that takes place before the age of 18”.

“In many contexts, the practice has been shown to have profound physical, intellectual, psychological, and emotional impacts, especially for girls. Children who are poor, live in rural areas and/or are out of school are disproportionally at risk of marrying young.

“Globally, the prevalence of child marriage has declined over the last decade, with the most progress seen in South Asia, especially among girls below 15 years of age. Nevertheless, in 2020 the total number of girls married before the age of 18 remained at approximately 12 million per year,” a 2020 UNICEF study states.

Commenting on the issue, Ms Doti said, “women and children are the most vulnerable in our society because they seem to be perpetually trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty”.

“The situation is being worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic. Because of the pandemic, many children are being forced into early marriages. The information I have received from my ministry’s officials is that the Thaba-Tseka district has the highest cases of child marriages in Lesotho.

“My ministry is working with that of Gender and Youth, Sports and Recreation on laws to protect children from early marriages. The amendments will make it a criminal offence for anyone to marry a child or to give away a child in marriage. The amendments will be tabled in parliament when it returns from its winter break,” Ms Doti said in an interview with the Sunday Express.

She said in the meantime, she hoped that the grants given by the government to households looking after vulnerable children will help provide basic necessities for young girls so they do not have to resort to early marriages.

However, Atang Likotsi, the Communications Officer at World Vision, has criticised the government for dragging its feet when it comes to the issue of child marriages.

He said it needs to do more to fight child marriages as it is a major issue that impacts negatively on the livelihoods of children, especially girls.

He urged the government to prioritise the passage of pending bills such as the Amendment Bill on Child Protection and Welfare Act 2011. The bill states that one is considered a child until they are 18 years of age. It also seeks to criminalise child marriages.

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