By EDDIE OSIFELO
MINISTRY of Women, Youth, Children and Family Affairs through National Action Committee for Children (NACC) is pushing to review the marriage age from 15 to 18 years old in the country.
This came about because the Sustainable Development Goal on gender equality (SDG 5) target 5.3 aims to eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) by 2030.
Solomon Islands had acceded to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1995 and Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 2002.
The CRC sets a minimum age of marriage of 18, and CEDAW obligates states to ensure free and full consent to marriage.
However, the Islanders Marriage Act states that the legal age of marriage is 15 years of age, with parental consent required up until the age of 18 (or judicial consent where parental consent is not possible).
According to UNICEF, in the Solomon Islands, child marriage is also driven by:
- Poverty: The Solomon Islands is one of the poorest countries in the Pacific region. Economic challenges, especially in rural areas, force some families to marry young girls off to a groom’s family in exchange for payment – known as a bride-price. This contributes to a perception that husbands “own” young girl brides, making them more vulnerable to violence. In a World Vision study conducted in the capital city of Honiara, 90 [percent] of respondents reported that their community practise bride price.
- Gender norms: Traditional beliefs that men are superior often justify oppressive behaviour towards women and girls. Scholars note that the recent civil war and the “undermining” of male roles in modern Melanesian culture has led to aggressive forms of masculinity which further harm women and girls.
- Traditional customs: These vary across Melanesian, Polynesian and Micronesian communities, but often encourage child marriage as a means of ensuring that land inheritance and ownership remains in the family.
- Migration: An increase in foreign men working as labourers in the logging industry to the Solomon Islands has reportedly led to young girls being sold into marriages with them.
MWYCFA permanent secretary, Dr Cedrick Alependava said already NACC had submitted its request for review through the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs.
He said should this review has come about, the minimum prevention programme help build this knowledge and attitude.
Further to that, Dr Alependava said Faith Based Organisations should be involved in combating violence against children through their programmes in the churches.