The Program Officer of the Committee, Ms Elizabeth Hove, gave a broad overview of the objectives of the (RMLOC - Regional Model Laws Oversight Committee) in the virtual meeting of the Southern African Development Community Parliament Forum (SADC-PF) that btook place last Friday. According to her, the committee is aimed at evaluating and monitoring the implementation of model laws, and to share best practices and benchmarks with member states on model laws that can assist in advancing the parliamentary and democratic architectures of the SADC-PF.
To be a relevant reservoir of data and research on model laws and to harness skills and capacity of the SADC-PF, member states must be in a position to conduct oversight and accountability on relevant model laws that have been ratified by the region and the member states.
If this can be achieved, she reckons, it will bridge the gap between citizens and regional parliaments of SADC and can fortify our regional legislatures as the cradle of parliamentary democracy.
To this effect, she said, the region should engage in inter-parliamentary diplomacy and dialogues with the African Union (AU), and other multilateral parliamentary forums to share experiences and harmonise the linkages of SADC-PF member states to improve the progress of its regional integration and the implementation of its model laws.
One of the overriding objectives of the committee is to lobby and advocate for the implementation of policies promulgated by the African Union and other international parliamentary bodies that impinge positively on the model laws of the SADC-PF region.
On "Cost of Inaction: Oversight Focus - Eradicating Child Marriage and Protecting Children Already in Marriage", Ms Eva Jhala, a committee Member from Zambia, insisted that the effectiveness of model laws on child marriages could only succeed if national parliaments of SADC succeed in conducting effective oversight on the executive in providing ideal processes and resources for the domestication of model laws.
The cost of inaction in domesticating model laws on child marriages is catastrophic, she claimed. According to her view, the 31th SADC-PF Meeting in 2014 promulgated a need for a concerted effort to eradicate child marriages in the region. "But where are we today?" she asked rhetorically.
She further cited that the African Union's heads of state have called for the "comprehensive action plan by member states to enforce laws that set the minimum age of marriage to 18 years as part of its 2063 Agenda. Also, she added, Article 16 of African Charter for Rights of Women, which came to be known as Maputo Protocol, called for the enactment of legislation that will ensure that there's an entrenchment of equal rights of parties in the marriage. But again, where are we today as a region and continent in relation to all these declarations that are binding to all member states.
She ventured that "the issue of the sovereignty of member states should not be used as a stumbling block in the ratification of laws on human rights and gender equity". It just can't be. "Model laws that promote the Bill of Rights without regard to gender should not be seen as an impediment to the sovereignty of nation states."
According to her, the SADC-PF model laws on child marriages are based on the human rights culture that seeks to advance children's rights, reproductive rights of females, privacy, dignity and respect of children. These laws intend to eradicate sexual abuse. "These principles must be paramount above any interest of the government of any member state."
The greatest threat to these model laws is the lack of adequate funding, she said. However, we need to ensure that we make funds available for this cause from our own fiscus because "we can't perpetually rely on the international community to address our own challenges".
She is of the view that governments of SADC member states must be held accountable in this regard to ensure that children "are freed from all forms of harmful practices".
Child marriages are historical, they go back a long way. Hence, regional parliaments of the region must strengthen their oversight mechanisms over their executive to, among other things, promote a child's right not to be married. "To keep the girls at schools by affording them alternatives to marriage through awareness and advocacy programmes. To be aware of the fact that there is more to life than marriage."
As a region, she said, we are signatories to many treaties on this subject, such as the 1969 Vienna Treaty, but we keep on making excuses while this treaty is binding.
The non-domestication of model laws on child marriages equates to children's denial to access their rights - the results of which see children having nowhere to turn to when their rights are trampled upon. This makes these laws ineffective."
We need to domesticate children's rights instruments in our national jurisdictions. "If we don't domesticate these laws, the eradication of child marriages won't be achieved," she stated.
She advised that Parliamentarians need to be proactive, attuned to legislative scrutiny, must possess the necessary skills to develop and analyse policies that concern this subject matter if any progress was to be made through the SADC-PF model laws in this regard.