Child marriage the stubborn vice in our midst

’MATHATISI SEBUSI

MASERU – ’Mathabo* a 19-year-old housewife and mother to two boys’ life has assumed a humdrum routine for almost four years since her family married her off to an older man in the village. She and her sister were raised by their grandmother after their parents died in a car accident. After standard seven, her grandmother and her aunts married her off to an older man whose family was rich in order for them to get good lobola. Importantly, the family wanted her to have someone to take care of her in case their grandmother passes away too.

“I was only 15 years old when I got married. As much as I was a bright child and passed my standard seven with first class, I was not given the chance to decide if I wanted to get married or to continue with my studies. All that my family was interested in was sending me away so they could get lobola. “My grandmother was struggling financially but I was granted a bursary by the ministry of social development to continue with my studies, so school fees have never been a problem. “I got into this marriage to fulfil my family’s desire and had to sacrifice my happiness and dreams to live with a man I never loved,” ’Mathabo noted.

That point practically ended her social life and personal development, condemning her to a life in the kitchen and loneliness. Her husband works in the mines in South Africa, like half a million other Basotho. Her life revolves around looking after her family since her domineering husband controls every aspect of her life, picking her friends as well. Child marriage is not only a violation of children’s human rights but it also robs girls of their childhood, denies them their rights to make vital decisions about their sexual health and well-being and also forces them out of education and into a life of poverty, with an increased risk of violence, abuse, ill-health or early death.

According to Help Lesotho programme manager, Mokone Mafethe child marriage is a battle worth fighting together in order to uproot it from the society. Mafethe said families and communities need to re-evaluate their values to ensure that the rights of girls and women are respected. She says poverty is one of the chief causes behind child marriage, adding girls either marry early to escape poverty or families want to gain wealth by forcing their children into arranged marriages.

“Lack of knowledge regarding sex that leads to early and unintended pregnancy, abuse in the family especially orphans, abduction (chobeliso) where men want to marry beautiful, women with some form of education or those who have not had sexual intercourse before (virgins) also are victims of child marriage,” she adds. However, non-governmental organisations like Help Lesotho together with the ministry of social development are working tirelessly to end child marriage.

Social development minister ’Matebatso Doti says her ministry is trying to reduce child marriage by making awareness campaigns about the matter. Doti says, among others, personnel from the ministry visits schools and communities to teach as well as encourage Basotho to end child marriage. To ensure the success of the campaign, Doti says the ministry also offers bursaries to learners and encourages them to get an education and not get involved in early marriage. As part of the bigger world’s campaign to end the menace, the United Nations (UN), she says, has ordered its member states to select a respectable individual in each country to be the champion against child marriage and her ministry chose Princess Senate Seeiso.

Doti says the ministry believes that through Princess Senate, messages against child marriage will be better appreciated by her peers, especially other young girls who are still at school. The princess is also the leader of children’s parliament where children freely discuss their issues and concerns without fear. She is soon expected to tour schools around the country to address her peers and encourage them to study hard and avoid early marriages.

Addressing her peers in Maseru on April 11 when the she was launched as Lesotho’s ambassador against child marriage, Princess Senate noted that marriage was not meant for children, appealing to her peers to make education a priority in order to achieve a fruitful and healthy adulthood. She urged them to use the principle of the interest of the child to their benefi t and strive for a bright future, full of potential and aspirations.

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