Child marriage: 803 children including 705 girls from 15 to 19 years married between 2015-2017

By  Ahmad Macky

Child marriage is a growing problem across countries based on cultures, religions and ethnicities. Child brides can be found in every region of the world including Mauritius. In July , sooner or later all SADC countries, of which Mauritius is a member, will probably adopt a law to eradicate child marriage and protect minors already married.

The Ombudsperson for children in Mauritius, Rita Venkatasamy said: “ Je ne suis pas d’accord avec une loi qui autorise le marriage à 16 ans.”. The lady is quite right to say that as an Ombudsperson because she knows and foresees the problem that could occur in child marriage.

Like its peers in SADC, Mauritius is engaged in the eradication of child marriage and the protection of minors already married. 705 girls and 98 boys from 15 to 19 years have been married between 2015-2017. Advocacy for the rights of Mauritian children has always considered this problem seriously.

On the other hand, if the revelation by official statistics on certain figures on marriage contracted by or in presence of a civil service officer is true, the authority in Mauritius needs to tackle this problem in good time and with no time lost. Let us hope that all SADC countries that will gather soon shall adopt a typical legislation on the eradication of child marriage and the protection of minors already married.

Mauritius, in the meantime, needs to review its laws that allow a minor of 16 years old to get married. At this age and even at 18 yrs old, his or her place should be at school because education is compulsory till the age of 16. We badly need a Children Bill as a bulwark against early marriage.

According to Statistics Mauritius, 705 girls aged from 15 to 19 yrs have been married between 2015-2017.  The legal age to get married in Mauritius is 16 yrs with the consent of the child’s parent. And  18 to 19 yrs old is an age where the youngster is still an adolescent and immature .

Still according to the official figures, we note among the 705 girls, one minor of less than 15 yrs old who, was married (the type of marriage is not elaborated) to a forty five year old man. 21 others have been united to men between the ages of 20 to 29 yrs old.

In Mauritius, as we all know, the legal age to contract a civil marriage is from 18 yrs. And yet, even minors, whether girls or boys aged more than 16 yrs and less than 18 yrs could also get married. At the Civil State Department, it is clearly stipulated: “The age at which a person can civilly marry is 18 yrs. A minor over 16 and under 18 can contract civil marriage with the consent of his/her parents.”

Such a reality has never been put into practice by many parents or other responsible parties when it is a question to respect the right and protection of the Mauritian child. It is sad to know virtually every year minors under 18 are propelled into married life which is not good to their welfare and advantage to get married so early.

In so far as marriage celebration is performed in Mauritius, our country is not abiding to the rules and regulations of the United Nation Convention. Such a serious violation could pose a social problem. Let us hope the Ombudsperson in Mauritius and other institutions of good will consider such a problem of early marriage and raise it as it is worth raising because we are a little more than two months of the next Plenary Assembly of the Parliamentary Forum of the Community Development of Africa in Swaziland.

According to a survey done in certain parts of the country, most minors, especially young girls from 18 to 19 yrs old we have met, cohabit with men mostly older than they, perhaps twice their ages. Some of these girls are already mothers.

In Mauritius, public opinion and also the authority have not been sufficiently made aware of this social problem where there is always a “laissez aller” and a “laissez faire”. We need a strong law to combat this scourge! We need to review the ‘Family Law’.