By Bongani Nkosi
A call has been made for the country to scrap legislation that stipulates that girls aged 15 can enter into marriage.
The same legislation, which is the Marriage Act, placed the age in which boys can marry at 18.
According to this incumbent law, girls aged 15 can enter into marriage with permission of the Home Affairs minister.
Another piece of legislation allowing children aged 18 and under to enter into marriages is the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act (RCMA).
Under the RCMA, largely applicable to marriages involving lobola, those 18 and under can marry after consent of their parents.
Data from Stats South Africa released in 2017 revealed that 91000 girls between the ages of 12 and 17 were married, divorced, separated or widowed.
Isencane Lengane, a reality show that followed preparations of a wedding between Siyacela Dlamuka and Thando Msomi, teens aged 16, set tongues wagging recently.
The SA Law Reform Commission (SALRC) has highlighted legislation permitting the marriages of children as concerning.
It was investigating whether marriages in the country should be registered under a single statute.
Marriages were currently registered under three pieces of legislation, the Marriage Act of 1961, Recognition of Customary Marriages Act of 1998 and the Civil Union Act of 2006.
“A concern is that the Marriage Act allows for children below the age of 18 to get married with the permission of the minister of Home Affairs,” said the SALRC in its paper.
“This provision also differentiates between girls and boys.
“Girls can marry at a younger age of 15 than boys at 18, which is a disadvantage (to girls).
“The second concern is the difference between the various statutes on marriageable age, with the Civil Union Act not allowing marriage under the age of 18.
“The RCMA allows for underage marriage with consent of the parents,” the SALRC said.
It said that under the Marriage Act and the RCMA “parents, functionaries and courts are empowered to grant consent for a marriage of parties below the age of 18”.
“There are discrepancies between the Marriage Act and the RCMA on the one hand, and the Civil Union Act on the other hand, as the latter sets the minimum age of marriage at 18 without exceptions.”
After an earlier probe into Islamic marriages, consensus was reached among SALRC members that the marriage age should be 18.
“The SALRC noted in its report on Islamic Marriages and Related Matters that it had considered all the submissions by stakeholders and it agreed that the age of the parties should be the same, namely 18,” said the SALRC.
The public has until August 31 to submit comments to the SALRC on whether marriage laws should be regulated under a single statute.
“Do stakeholders agree the discrepancies between the Marriage Act, Recognition of Customary Marriages and the Civil Union Act as regards the minimum age for marriage must be remedied?” it asked.