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Swaziland: New Legislation Outlaws Child Marriage

Publication Date: 
September 10, 2012

MBABANE- Swazi men who continue to marry underage girls through the age-old Swazi custom kwendzisa will now be breaking the law.

Kwendzisa is a process where the parent or guardian marries off a girl child to an adult male without her consent.

Though the Act does not stipulate a specific fine or jail term for committing the offence, offenders will be liable, on conviction, to a fine not exceeding the monetary jurisdiction of a magistrate or to an appropriate term of imprisonment.

The jurisdiction of a magistrate is E10 000 for criminal matters.

This is according to the Children’s Protection and Welfare Act of 2012 which was endorsed by His Majesty King III last Friday.

The Act clearly states that children have the right to refuse to be compelled to undergo or uphold any custom and other traditional practices which are likely to negatively affect them.

A child, according to the Act, is a person under the age of 18.

In the past there was no law stopping 15-year-olds from marrying traditionally despite the Girls’ Protection Act of 1920 which made it illegal to have sex with girls under the age of 16.

The law states that all practices which are likely to affect the child’s life, health, welfare, dignity or physical, emotional, psychological, mental and intellectual development is illegal.

This act will come into force on a date the Minister of Justice and Constitutional affairs may fix by notice in the form of a gazette.

The minister may also fix different dates for the coming into effect of different parts or sections of the gazette.

When the Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) announced endorsement of the Act by the King, he said, Swaziland hoped to make giant improvements from being one of the lowest ranking countries in terms of child friendliness and protection of their rights.

Currently, Swaziland ranks number 45 out of 60 countries, according to the international ratings of children’s friendliness and rights protection report.