Princess Senate Mohato Seeiso says early child marriages rob children of their childhood, deny them an opportunity for a fruitful and a bright future characterised by solid education, good health and robust development.
This, she said when officially opening the first sitting of the first session of National Children’s Parliament on Thursday in Maseru. The theme is ‘Leave no child behind for the development of Lesotho’.
She called on community leaders to root out child marriage, saying it is a harmful cultural practice that violates the rights of children and debilitates their growth. She also called on policy makers or legislators to accelerate the implementation of laws that protect children’s rights.
She further for children’s protection and they be helped to reach their full potential, saying they are flowers and a resource.
‘The legal frameworks regarding children issues have to be strengthened and implemented. The children should be encouraged to be part of the decision making for the betterment of the country’, she added.
Talking to her peers, she urged them to stay in school and not to be enticed by marriage. She also appealed to parents to keep their children in school and not to subject them to early marriage while also urging the media and public to stand up and inform children about their rights.
Addressing the National Children’s Parliament, Leader of the House, Thabang Mokoma commended Princess Senate for advocating for children’s protection and their inclusion in policy making.
He said the laws should work in collaboration with the motion, saying children should not be left behind for the development of the country.
The Deputy Leader of Opposition, Kabelo Kelepa said child marriage is common in their rural villages hence should be protected.
He noted that it is every child’s right to have national identity documents therefore appealing to the concerned ministries to ensure that such documents are accessible.
He said child marriage contributes immensely to poverty, noting that children should be left to go to school so that they can make their own living.
In the same sitting, the Minister of Health, Phapang Kolobe said child marriage increases maternal mortality because when children have babies at a tender age when their bodies have not developed enough they could die or suffer different disabilities.
He appealed to the nation to stand together in fighting child marriage and that government should ensure that Sustainable Development Goal three is implemented and maternal mortality is decreased.
On the other hand, Minister of Social Development, Thabang Pitso said early child marriage is the biggest challenge Basotho children have to face, noting that getting married at young age hinders children the right of enjoying childhood as well as to attend school.
He added that it also contributes to the economy meltdown as they are unable to work as well as to provide for their children as they are children themselves.
He said the Children’s Protection and Welfare Act of 2011 should be amended in order to include child marriage, adding that Marriage Act of 1974 which stipulates that girls should be married at 16 years should be reviewed as it is outdated and clashes with current policies and conventions.
Meanwhile, Member of Parliament for Thaba-Moea constituency, Mpeo Kherehloa appealed to the Ministry of Education and Training to ensure that education is inclusive not only on paper but that schools practice inclusive education where facilities cater for children with disability, highlighting that this would make them feel like other children and would not be discriminated against as they would interact on daily basis.
She stressed that text books written in braille should be available in schools as well.
The Member of Parliament for Thetsane Constituency, Rorisang Shao said as people living with disability, they are unable to access services because some of the institutions are not accommodating hence are forced to go to schools that they do not want only because such schools have ramps and are accessed by wheelchairs.
He called on to legislators to ensure that children with disability are included in schools boards.
Meanwhile, the Ministers of Health, Justice and Correctional Services, Education and Training, Social Development as well as Labour and Employment pledged to ensure implementation of laws that protect rights of children including disability equity Bill, child marriage, end of maternal mortality, access to education, property grabbing and review of Child Protection Act.