Child marriage is now a crime in Mozambique

Australia should be next.

Child marriage is now a crime in Mozambique

Australia should be next.

Imagine a world where one in two girls are married before their 18th birthday and one in 10 are married before they turn 15.

That’s the grim reality in Mozambique where they have one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world. 

Child marriage is a harmful traditional practice that robs girls of their education, their health and their future, says Persília Muianga de Gouveia, World Vision’s Advocacy and Campaign Manager in Mozambique. 

“I’ve seen too many girls’ lives destroyed, their dreams simply go up in flames because they married before they should. They dropped out of school and never went back and today can neither read nor write; their bodies were not ready to have babies and both mothers and babies ended up dying due to complications at birth,” she said.

After years of campaigning by World Vision and other NGOs, in July 2019 Mozambique criminalised child marriage. Under the new law, perpetrators face up to 12 years in prison.

Family members or others who force children into early marriage are also liable for imprisonment for up to eight years. Any traditional or religious authority that officiates an early marriage ceremony faces up to two years in jail.

Edson Macuácua, Chair of the Parliament’s sub-committee for Constitutional Affairs, Human Rights and Legality explains that the anti-marriage law “will ensure full growth and development of a girl's personality and contribute to a more just society where women and men have the same opportunities for growth, training and development".

Under the new law, 18 is now the minimum legal age for marriage in Mozambique. This eliminates a previous exception, under the Family Law, for children aged between 16 and 18 to be allowed to marry with their parents' consent.

On this point, child protection laws in Mozambique are now even stronger than the laws in Australia, says Mercy Jumo, World Vision Australia’s Senior Child Rights Advisor.

“In Australia exceptions under the Marriage Act (2011) allow parents and magistrates to approve marriage of children aged 16 and 17 under some circumstances,” she said.

“World Vision believes that no circumstances should allow for child marriage whether it’s in Australia, Mozambique or anywhere else in the world.” 

In many African countries, indifference to child marriage remains one of the biggest obstacles. But with real leadership anything is possible.

That’s why World Vision is calling on the Economic Community of West African States and the African Union and its member states to show leadership and urgently implement the following three recommendations: 

  1. Ensure all African countries set the legal age of marriage at 18 and above and review, enact and enforce the necessary national and regional legislation to make this happen.
  2. Ensure that initiatives to ending child marriage are holistic, comprehensive and integrated.
  3. Ensure that girls and women continue to be empowered as key change agents in ending child marriage.

If we are going to end child marriage and realise a world where all children are safe and free then we need a holistic and coordinated local, national and global approach.