Push to increase teenage marriage age from 15 to 18 yrs as it rises sharply

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A Forum held on Friday in Honiara organized by the Solomon Islands Planned Parenthood Association (SIPPA) has made a strong recommendation for an amendment to the Island Marriage Act to increase the marriage age from 15 years to 18.

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NGO partners at the discussion

Latest data presented by SIPPA to the workshop shows that 21% of of girls living in the Solomon Islands are married before their 18th birthday and 6% before the age of 15. SIPPA Executive Director Ben Angoa says child marriage is a serious concern in the country and like everywhere else it is a harmful practice that denies girls their right to make vital decisions about their sexual health and well-being so as it forces them out of education.

The Forum was also repeatedly told that child marriage is also linked to teenage pregnancy. In most cases, the boys and girls are forced to marry each other after the girl is pregnant at a very young age. Amongst the key causes to teenage pregnancy is unprotected sex, pressure from boyfriend, economic circumstances, lack of information and sexual abuse.

The Forum which included senior government officials from the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Home Affairs and the Law Reform Unit and representatives from the Non-Government Organisations agreed that teenage marriage and teenage pregnancy are serious issues that must be addressed immediately. SIPPA is leading the charge to lobby for the Island Marriage Act (IMA) which was created in 1945 to be amended to cater for the changes and reality of today’s society. As part of its role, SIPPA works to ensure that everybody is free to make choices about their sexuality and has access to high quality sexual reproductive health services , information and that all Solomon Islanders are able to exercise their rights without discrimination.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) recognizes the role of civil society in advancing children’s rights especially the right for laws and policies to ensure the protection of the child. SIPPA acknowledges that the issue of early marriage or child marriage is a matter that interferes with girls autonomy to their bodies and often impacts on their reproductive health.

Local data shows that nearly 30 percent of young people are married before eighteen years.

“21% of girls living in the Solomon Islands are married before their 18th birthday and 6% before the age of 15.

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“Custom marriage of young girls still take place and despite not being registered, these are often recognised by courts as valid,” SIPPA said.

Meanwhile, the Child and Family Welfare Act 2017 defines child as “a person who is under 18 years, but does not include a child who is or has been married”. This amended the penal code (sexual offences) Act 2016 define a child as “a person under 18 years”.

However, the penal code also stipulates that the age of consent to sexual activity is 15 years given of age of parties and consent.

Data presented at the workshop have seen growing number of matured foreigners marrying very young local girls for money. It was also revealed that some parents have arranged their daughters to marry a foreigner in exchange for money or property. This is very common in villages next to logging camps. In such cases with the consent from parents, their daughters were given to the foreigners or those with money.

But all parties who attended the Forum wanted this to be changed and wanted the IMA to be reviewed. In presenting their recommendations after the workshop, the government team said it wanted the IMA be reviewed and amongst the changes they sought is to increase the marriage age from 15 to 18.

Likewise, the NGO group has supported the government’s recommendation for the marriage age to be increased from 15 to 18.

And they have all agreed to work together in collecting further data and doing awareness in the country with regards to the proposed amendment.

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