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Children's Bill – the Legal Age of Marriage must be 18

24.09.2019

The Muvman Liberasyon Fam has issued the following communiqué, which LALIT presents to our readers;


 Muvman Liberasyon Fam supports the raising of the legal age for marriage to 18. The reason why this is necessary is that children under 18 are still minors and, especially girl children, risk being “married off” by parents – often in order to supposedly “resolve” some other problem. (This “other problem” can vary from the girl being pregnant, being in genuine danger of abuse by some male within the family, being in love with another boy the parents object to thus they want to marry her to this one of their choice, because one of the girl’s parents is ill and wants to see the girl safely married before passing on, or simply to be rid of the “problems” that the girl-child is allegedly saddling them with by placing her under the responsibility of someone else i.e. a husband.)


What the Government is proposing in the new Children’s Bill that is coming up in the National Assembly later today in order to supposedly put an end to the abuse of forced marrying off of daughters by parents, is to pass a special law to criminalize parents who force a child to marry. In the MLF we think this is a particularly bad idea: it puts enormous pressure on a child who opposes her parents’ will by raising the stakes so high that she has to set the police on them. It is absurd. Yet it is indeed typical of the Jugnauth regime to resort to repression as a panacea for any social problem, be it drug use, domestic violence, sexual assault, and now forced marriages of children.


History of struggle


The MLF in the 1970s and 1980s was at the forefront of the united front of women’s organizations that protested until civil marriage laws in the Code Napoleon were finally changed in 1981 and the marriage age was raised from 15 (and under 15) to 18 (with the exception of a judge’s dispensation for children between 16 and 18).  It seemed a victory.


However, various pressure groups militated to lower the marriage age once again, and it was lowered in 1984, this time to 16, with parental consent necessary for under 18s.


So, we have been left, in reality, with the anomaly of minors, particularly girls, being “married off” by their parents before they are of an age to be able to refuse.


The new Children’s Bill could change this, by outlawing marriage until 18. It has not proposed this, but still maintains parental consent as the litmus test. We are thus pushing for an amendment to be brought to the Bill to raise the marriage age to 18 and at the same time to remove any possibility for parents to give consent for children under 18 to marry. (And naturally to abandon the law to criminalize forced marriage.)


In the MLF, we propose a sunset clause, giving the Court power to act in the child’s interests and in response to a request from the child. This way parents, over a period of say two years, become aware that 18 is the age of marriage, and that marriage will no longer be possible as a means of solving some other real or perceived problems, and that this law is in the interests of the child.


For say two years, we propose, that a child of 17 but not yet 18, should be able to approach a judge in the new Children’s Courts proposed by the Children’s Bill for dispensation to marry. If the judge believes it to be in the child’s interests, he or she will then issue a special “order”. This can be done, in practice, by the child going through the Ministry concerned with Child Development to prepare the demand for Court. As the average age at which women enter a first marriage in Mauritius has risen to 28 years old, we can expect a relatively small, and decreasing, number of such requests over the two years until the sunset clause ends.


Over the same two years, we should also, incidentally, aim to have the schooling age raised from 16 to 18, and this will then make way for a logical civil code, one that outlaws both marriage contracts (and indeed another anomaly, work contracts) for those who are still minors.


MLF


24 September, 2019