Wednesday, August 12, 2009

DPP responds on law


The Nyasatimes article titled "Chidyamakanda Law' Oppression for Malawi girls-activists” is an unfortunate distortion of realities.

First of all let us state clearly that in the Malawi Constitution the marriageable age without parental consent for a girl has always been 18 years, and this was not changed in the Bill in question.

Secondly the marriageable age with parental consent has always been at 15 to 16 years in the past. All this Bill has done is to raise the minimum from 15 years to 16 years.

It must also be stated that the proposal to raise this age from 15 to 16 years was made by the Law Commission that reviewed the Constitution in 1998, but that the UDF Cabinet resisted this proposal. This was primarily because of some cultural practices of early marriages in some parts of Malawi.

In 2007 another Law Commission on the Constitution reviewed this section and many others. Because of similar considerations and pressures, which the 1998 Law Commission faced they retained this marriageable age with parental permission at 16 years.

With the opposition UDF and MCP dominating Parliament at that time, this amendment proposal never passed through Parliament although it was on the Order Paper all the time.

It is also very important to note that all these activists, NGO’s, commentators, etc were there in 1998 and 2007 when the UDF Cabinet and others resisted the raising of the marriageable age with parental consent from 15 to 16 years age. They unfortunately kept quite. In fact some of the NGO’s that are raising these serious concerns now participated and contributed to the two Law Commissions recommendations. They understood the issues, but have remained silent for the 11 years during which this amendment Bill languished on the Order Paper of Parliament.

The Law does not legalize a girl to marry at 16 years. It says that should circumstances and need arise, parents may consent to their daughters marriage at the age 16 to 18 years without getting into problems with the Law.

It is also completely wrong to call this a marriage age amendment Act or a “Chidyamakanda Law” There were 27 amendments in this Bill, many of them as important as the raising of the marriageable age from 15 to 16 years. It is very strange that these activists want the 27 very important issues rejected by the President just because of the fact that the marriageable age with parent consent has not been raised high enough.

It is also disturbing that they did not raise their concerns in the three (3) weeks during which the Bill was in circulation before passing in this Parliament.

Dr. Hetherwick Ntaba
11th August 2009

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