The Customary Marriage Act of Sierra Leone and Child Marriage
“Educating girls is one of the most powerful tools to prevent child marriage.” – Girls Not Brides-The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage
It is hard but possible to crack down on something negative that has been accepted as a way of life. But let us not confuse what is true and right with everything we accept as a way of life. Child marriage is seen as a way of life in Sierra Leone. It has comfortably taken residence in our homes. It is wearing the mask of culture, customs, traditions and religion. But it is time for us to face facts and call a spade a spade. Child marriage, no matter how you disguise it, is wrong! And it should be eradicated in Sierra Leone.
But how can child marriage be reduced in Sierra Leone, when the laws of the country (intentionally or not) make it permissible? The Customary Marriage Act (CMA) of Sierra Leone, enacted in 2009, hinders the fight against child marriage in the country. A portion of the CMA states that:
2. (1) Subject to this act, a customary marriage, contracted after the coming into operation of this Act, shall be valid only if
(a) both spouses are not less than eighteen years old and consent to the marriage, and
(b) the marriage is contracted in accordance with the customary law applicable to any of the spouses.
(2) Where, either of the prospective spouses, not being a widow or widower, is less than eighteen years, it shall be necessary for the parent to give consent to the marriage and if the parents are dead or unable for any reason to give such consent, then the consent may be given to the guardians of the prospective spouse or spouses to the marriage, as the case may be.
The Child Rights Act (CRA, 2007) of Sierra Leone, states that the legal age for anyone to marry is 18. It also states that no child should be subjected to early marriage and child betrothal.
Evidently, there is clear discrepancy between these two laws. Under no circumstance, should any child under the legal age be allowed to marry. It is absolutely ridiculous that this portion of the act was passed in the first place! And it makes it harder for stakeholders such as the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs (MSWGCA), the National Commission for Children (NCC) and the police force to do their jobs effectively. A harmonization of both acts need to be done fast.
What problems do the CMA present? It gives parents and guardians the legal power to marry off children. Keep in mind, Sierra Leone is a country where a large portion of the citizens live in poverty. And in such a country, child marriage is accompanied with several supposed incentives. They are:
- One less mouth to feed
- One less person to educate
- Financial gains received from in-laws which include bride price
- In order to prevent teen pregnancy or in cases where teen pregnancy arise, girls are married off quickly in order to protect the family name
- It is sad to admit but it is not uncommon to find children cohabitating by the age 14-17 (sometimes much younger). When pregnancy happens, the child is married off.
What should be done?
The law states that offenders should either pay a fine of not less than five hundred thousand leones ($77) or be imprisoned for not more than one year or a combination of both. I do think the fine amount must be more specific and imprisonment time definitely needs to be increased.
But the other major problem Sierra Leone is faced with is the problem of enforcement of laws. You cannot say nobody is above the law but then someone who is supposed to be an enforcer of the law, looks the other way when a friend of his engages in the act. Obviously, no one will take the laws seriously. And it makes people bold enough to abuse the law.
Hmmm so what do you say? What are your thoughts? What should be done? Let’s talk!
Read more about what I have to say regarding child marriage in this thought-provoking interview I did with Dunia magazine!
Psst! You can submit an article to the Sincerely ShirleyGO blog here. Read guidelines for guest blogging here.
Please read the following posts on child marriage and teen pregnancy to have a better understanding on how these serious issues prevail in Sierra Leone. More information can be found in the ‘Issues in Sierra Leone’ section of the Sincerely ShirleyGO blog.
This Stop the Stigma against Teen Moms women’s tank top is available in different colors and sizes. It costs $19.95
Interested in this product? Click on this link to buy it: https://www.gearbubble.com/stopstigmateenmomstanktop
Please check the shop page for the premium tee Stop the Stigma against Teen Moms premium tee.
Remember, be sincerely you!