Africa-Press – Eswatini. Following the suggestion by the Human Rights Commission’s call for a national debate on the marriageable age, different stakeholders have suggested 21 years instead of the proposed 18 years.
The legal age of consent, as stipulated in the country’s Constitution, Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act and the proposed Marriage Bill is 18 years.
Human Rights Commission Deputy Commissioner name Duduzile Dlamini said there was a need for the country to engage and debate on the marriageable age issue.
The commissioner expressed concern that at the age of 18, some children were still school going, at times not matured and were generally unaware of what constitutes the marriage institution.
Eswatini League of African Churches President Arch Bishop Samson Hlatjwako said the age was young and suggested that least it should be 20 years.
“At the age of 18 years, our children are too young, it would be much better if they suggest at least 20 years. This isn’t a good idea because at that age they are not fully developed.
“It will also lead to an increase in divorce cases and gender-based violence. The couples might later decide that they made a mistake with their partners and leave them. This ideology is killing the country just like the cohabitation concept,” he said.
Traditionalist and Imbali Overseer Hlangabeza Mdluli said he considered someone aged 18 young. He said he does not agree that 18 years should be the marriageable age because children’s development differs, depending where and how they grew up.
“After some time, it can be discovered that as much as they consented, they were not ready for marriage. The age is too young for marriage,” Mdluli said.
Manzini Regional Administrator Chief Prince Gija declared his love for Siswati culture, stating that it was so organised.
He said even young brides in their mid-20s, were guided by an elderly, whether by the mother or mother-in-law in leading and giving teachings. He said the elderly would help even first time mothers. The RA stated that only with a second child would a bride be considered knowledgeable with certain things and the couple given a go ahead to move out of home.
He noted that with this Bill, people were confusing international practices, which they now wanted to be implemented in the country.
“As Emaswati we are identified by certain things that are not practised internationally and now we want to discard that. That is the reason why the international organizations will give us boundaries and perimeters and reprimand us when we don’t implement them as they want.
“This isn’t ours. At 18 years, a child remains under the guidance of parents. The Constitution that people keep referring to was also influenced by international instruments,” he said.
The chief added that while 21 years would be better, in Siswati that age was still young. He said a girl child would attend the reed dance until at least 23 years, where they are then considered as tingudlela; old and developed enough to get married.
Dlamini said at the rise of HIV/AIDS, international organisation preached abstinence. He said when the King commissioned umcwasho as part of the abstinence campaign, the very same international organisations screamed violation of rights.
Senator Chief Mvimbi Matse said as much as the Constitution stipulated 18 years as a legal age of consent, the levels of maturity differed with each person.
He said as traditional leaders, they considered the age young. He wondered how children would be expected to restart and upgrade their grades as spouses should they get married; especially the girl child. Matse said if they would promote this age, most teenagers would be married at a tender age and would not be able to further their education.
He suggested that at least 21 years should be the marriageable age considering the fact that the level of maturity might have increased and the child exposed to the world generally.
“We should fix these things for our future generations using the laws. We need to correct some past behaviour using these laws. If it means amending already existing acts, so be it,” he said.