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General News of Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Source: ghana.dubawa.org

Legal Marriage Age: Did Muntaka advocate a reduction to 16 years?

Claim

News websites claim the Member of Parliament for Asawase constituency, Muntaka Mubarak, has advocated for the legal age for marriage to be reduced to 16 years

The news reports are false. The Asawase MP did not advocate the legal age for marriage to be reduced to 16 years.

Full text

A number of local news websites and blogs including mynewsgh.com and Ghana Vibes.com have published and widely shared online articles claiming the Member of Parliament for Asawase constituency in the Ashanti Region, Alhaji Muntaka Mubarak, advocated the legal age for marriage in Ghana to be reduced to 16 years from the current 18 years.

The articles claimed that the legislator made the advocacy during the vetting of Supreme Court justice nominee, Professor Henrietta Mensa-Bonsu on May 12 by Parliament’s Appointments Committee.

“Member of Parliament for Asawase, the Honourable Muhammed Muntaka Mubarak is advocating for a reduction in the age of marriage in Ghana to 16 years from the current 18 years, MyNewsGh.cm reports….The polygamous lawmaker who enjoys a wide following among Muslim communities questioned that considering that “children these days are becoming sexually active early in their lives, is it not more prudent to keep the age of marriage at 18?”–excerpts from mynewsgh’s publication.

Verification

To verify the claim, we contacted Muntaka Mubarak via phone to get clarity on whether he indeed made any such statement.

He said, “I was saying that why do we want to consent to sex at 16 but they can only get married at 18. Why don’t we synchronize them to be at one point… If we think that the only time that children can be able to have sex is at 18, why don’t we put everything to 18 because our culture, whether you are a Christian or Muslim or across this country, I don’t see any single culture that allows premarital sex so I wanted her view on that.”

We subsequently obtained a video clip of the May 12 vetting proceedings as published on YouTube by Joy News TV and transcribed the section on what ensued between Muntaka Mubarak and the nominee, Professor Mensa-Bonsu on the question regarding the issue of minimum legal age for marriage and age of consent for sex as enshrined in the Children’s Act 1998 (Act 560) section 14(2).

Below is the transcription (2:09:38 – 2:13:03)

Muntaka: I notice that you have done a lot on Reproductive Health. Is that right?… So I want to believe that you are very familiar with the Children’s Act. I have argued, even on the floor of Parliament that the right for a child to have sex at 16 years while the right of a girl or a boy to get married [is] 18, for me was problematic. Having worked all these years in this area, will you agree with me or you think there is some special reason why we think that children at 16, they can consent to sex but for them to get married, they have to be 18. Do you agree or you think there is some special reason why this arrangement is done?

Mensa-Bonsu: Indeed I agree with you and I have pointed that out in my writings. At the same time, there is a problem of when you raise the age too high and in the situation where you are trying to even fight child marriages and you are not being successful, it will be self-defeating. At the same time, to keep the age low and to keep the age of marriage at 18, does create this gap where, as you say, the child can have sex but cannot marry but maybe that is a consequence that is better for us than making the age of marriage 16 years which would be violating all kinds of international commitments that we have made. So not everything can be neat and tidy, but we live with it.

Muntaka: This is where I make reference to your earlier answer to a question where you said when you want to look at your culture in the eyes of some other person’s you may get something else. Almost all of us, from Binduru to Accra here, from West to the East, almost all the cultures, regardless of religion, frown on premarital sex. Now we have a law that because we want to meet an international obligation, we say that the children can have sex for almost two years before they get married or they can consent to sex before they can get married and I have chaired the health committee and when you talk to a lot of ‘gynaes’ [gynaecologists], they tell you the kind of pregnancies and the challenges that come with all that. Don’t you think that it is time for us to stick to our laws, if we think that the best time for children to be able to do that is 18, let the marriage and consent to sex be synchronized?

Mensa-Bonsu: Honourable, I would have loved to agree with you but we also have to be realistic. Policing it will be impossible. And you are saying that the girl cannot consent to sex until she is 18 which means any sexual contact will be criminal. That would also have its own repercussions, so as I said, it is not neat and tidy but you don’t want to let 16 years olds marry nor can you police that they should only have sex when they are 18.

Based on what ensued, it can be concluded that the news report misrepresented the Member of Parliament’s contributions at the vetting by attributing wrong quotes to him.

From the conversation, the MP rather sought to know the view of the nominee on what the parliamentarian considered as contradictions between the age of consent and the age a girl citizen can get married in Ghana where all cultures frown upon premarital sex. But the nominee, while agreeing partially that the current situation was problematic, posited that the available options equally had their own challenges.

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