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UN wants child marriage offenders punished

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The United Nations (UN) has said the progress made in terms of amending the child age and marriage age to 18 years in the country’s constitution is nothing without action.

Parliament amended Section 22 which talks about the legally accepted marriage age and Section 23 which talks about the age of a child.

United Nations Resident Coordinator, Mia Seppo, said it is high time the country started punishing child marriage perpetrators to send a stern warning to would-be offenders that child marriages are really illegal in the country.

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Seppo said the country needs to focus on making sure that early marriages and unwanted pregnancies do not happen at all.

The UN head in Malawi particularly mentioned the need to strengthen ties with traditional and religious leaders as change agents in raising awareness and seeking proof of age to avert illegal marriage transactions.

“Now that there exists a comprehensive legal protection for Malawian children, it is important that this is complemented with coordinated and holistic implementation and enforcement of the same. For example, increasing awareness and training among law enforcement officials and others to ensure laws on child marriage are understood, implemented and enforced,” Seppo said.

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She was speaking in Lilongwe on Wednesday night at a high level interface on the amendments of the sections 22 and 23.

Executive Director for Women and Law in Southern Africa (Wilsa) Malawi, Mzati Mbeko, and Solicitor General, Janet Banda, said there is still a lot of work ahead as there are legal provisions that are not in line with the changed provisions.

“There are also issues of by-laws that are working in the areas of some chiefs but there is also need to guide them to ensure that such by-laws are in line with the justice system,” Mbeko said.

Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Samuel Tembenu, said government is still working on ensuring that all the legal provisions in the country recognise that a child is anybody below the age of 18.

“It is true that there are some provisions in the Penal Code that do not recognise those who are 16 years as children in terms of the criminal justice system but we are doing all we can to do away with such inconsistencies to ensure that all the legal provisions speak to each other on the age of a child,” Tembenu said.

The process to amend the Constitution to raise the age of a child to 18 began in 2008 when Malawi Law Commission recommended such a move and the long wait for the amendment even saw government being taken to the African Court of Peoples and Human Rights in 2016 for violating the Charter on the Rights of the Child.

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