Mozambican girls take part in a lesson as part of a program that aims to help girls stay in school longer and stay out of child marriage in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique, April 20, 2018.

© 2019 AP Photo/Christopher Torchia

Mozambique’s national assembly took an important step toward ending the country’s sky-high rate of child marriage by unanimously adopting a law banning the practice. The new law prohibits marriage of children younger than 18 years old, without exception, and awaits the president’s signature to go into effect.

Mozambique has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world, with almost half of girls marrying before 18, and 1 in 10 before their fifteenth birthday. Child marriage often pushes girls out of school and condemns them to a life of poverty. It leaves them vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse and early pregnancies, which can cause lasting harm and even death.

Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi should sign the proposed law without delay and ensure girls are protected from the harms of child marriage. Government authorities should then make sure that communities know about the law when it comes into force and monitor its implementation.

In 2016, Mozambique launched a National Strategy on Prevention and Fight against Child Marriage. The impact of the strategy, which expires at the end of this year, is unclear.

As parliamentarians acknowledged in the debate around the child marriage law, keeping girls in school is key to preventing child marriages. In addition to ensuring the law is fully enforcd, government authorities should also review efforts to increase school retention for girls as part of its strategy to end child marriage.

The government has already taken a few important steps in this regard. In December 2018, Mozambique revoked a discriminatory 2003 decree that forced pregnant girls to take classes at night school. Education officials should now monitor schools to ensure that pregnant girls are going to school during the day. They should ensure Mozambique’s new education strategy addresses the educational needs of all girls, including pregnant and married girls and young mothers. The government should also address other barriers to their education such as stigma and lack of finances.

By passing this law, the national assembly has recognized Mozambique’s international obligation to uphold the rights of girls. With the president’s signature, children in Mozambique will finally have a new law to protect them.