The Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse (SWAGAA) has criticized traditionalists in the kingdom who insist that underage girls can be made to marry.
The group says most of these so-called marriages are forced on the girl and sometimes it happens after she has been raped or fallen pregnant.
SWAGAA was reacting after media reported King Mswati III’s right-hand man Timothy Velabo (TV) Mtetwa said it was acceptable for girls aged 15 to take part in traditional marriage known as kwendzisa if their parents agreed and the child wanted to.
Mtetwa said this knowing that in 2012 the Children’s Protection and Welfare Act was passed in Swaziland which made it illegal to engage in sexual relationships with girls under the age of 18.
In September 2012, he was reported saying traditionalists would apply for a review of the Act if it was felt to collide with Swazi customs and traditions.
Mtetwa, who is Ludzidzini Governor and popularly known as the ‘traditional prime minister’ of Swaziland, is considered in the kingdom, ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, to be the ultimate authority on traditional law and custom in the kingdom.
SWAGAA, in a media statement, said, ‘What is most disturbing is the fact that most of these “marriages” are forced, with the young girls having little or no say in being married to much older men.
‘The situation is often forced because the family wants to receive payment and if sexual relations have occurred (usually forced upon the girl), the family wants to save face. We have seen tragic stories in the newspaper recently involving these types of marriages, from girls being forced to marry after being raped, to getting pregnant and dropping out of school, to attempting suicide.’
It added, ‘What these young girls are enduring in the name of “traditional marriage” is a human rights violation. Swaziland has signed the Human Rights Declaration and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Children’s Protection and Welfare Act of 2012 received assent from King Mswati III to protect the lives and dignity of all children in Swaziland.
‘Protecting young Swazi girls from traditional marriages that they don’t want is a matter of principle. It is not a complicated legal issue; it is simply a matter of upholding human rights and Swazi law.’
SWAGAA added that international conventions stated, ‘Where one of the parties getting married is under 18, consent cannot always be assumed to be “free and full”’.
SWAGAA said there were a number of ‘negative’ reasons why girls were forced into traditional marriages, ‘such as the importance attributed to preserving family “honour” usually where the girl child has fallen pregnant before marriage or whilst at school.
‘There is a belief that marriage safeguards against “immoral” or “inappropriate behavior” which results in parents pushing their daughters into marriage well before they are ready. A lot of it, though, is due to the failure to enforce laws. Sometimes families are not even aware they are breaking the law.’
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