I’m all for civil society engagement and all but I have to admit that I’m taken aback by the way some civil society groups pick and choose their battles. For example, when the Parliament passed the new labour code that, among other things, reduced the paid maternity leave from three months to only six weeks, I didn’t see any women’s group protest and make a ruckus. I didn’t see anyone pen scathing articles and blogs, despite the fact that they could.
There seemed to be a bit of a collective grumble, and then life went on.
Never mind the fact that I don’t know how in the world a new mother will be expected to leave her breastfeeding child at home and go to work; perhaps the house-help will feed the baby? Honestly, there are more questions than answers on this one.
Compare the relative silence that the maternity leave issue received to the abortion debate that occurred last year. Everyone had an opinion. Everyone had a voice. The airwaves were saturated with differing views from the pro-life and pro-choice lobby. In fact, a religious delegation went to meet the President to beseech him to veto the proposed law. I wonder whether any group (male OR female) did likewise when maternity leave was slashed. I doubt it.
Last week, this newspaper reported that the Parliament was deliberating the amendment of the Family Law. What caught the eye was a proposal from the Ministry of Justice to lower the legal marriage age from 21 to 18. Like the abortion question, public interest was piqued.
One individual who was interviewed said, “It is clear that the general view is that 21 years should be maintained considering the standpoint of
having children continue with higher education so that they can later be able to compete effectively.”
Another said, “This might also lead to more people in that tender age bracket seeking to get married. This has quite a number of adverse effects, especially on the girl child. Our lawmakers should rethink their proposal and instead find ways of providing counseling services to such young people so they can get married at a reasonable age when they are prepared and ready for a lifetime commitment. Plus, this would also thwart family planning efforts as the earlier one gets married, most likely the more children they are bound to have. Especially if they are illiterate”.
I can understand why the two interviewed individuals felt that way. 18 year olds have barely lived. However, that doesn’t stop them from working full-time jobs and providing for their families. It doesn’t stop them from starting businesses and paying taxes. Their ‘young age’ doesn’t stop them from serving their country in the Rwanda Defence Forces and, if worst comes to worst, laying down their lives in battle. They vote for those wishing to hold the highest offices in the land and if they engage in any shenanigans, they suffer the same punishment as any other older person.
So, how can you, on one hand say that they are delicate little creatures, yet on the other hand, send them to kill those who would harm you? The fact is, we cannot keep treating them as children because, as our own law states, they are not. They are adults and they should be treated so. Marriage is a big step, yes. And it should be entered into with caution. However, 21 year-olds are no more deserving of matrimonial bliss than 18 year-olds. In fact, one could argue that even 21 year olds are too young. The majority are still in school, have no jobs, very little life experience and emotional maturity. At least that was what I was like when I was that age.
I have a nagging suspicion that the real issue is sex. We don’t want to think about our little ‘babies’ doing ‘it’. Fact one: they are. Fact two: there is nothing anyone can do about it. Fact three: many of these young people are a lot worldlier than we were when we were in our 20’s. To paraphrase the late John Lennon of The Beatles, let the 18 year olds make love…as well as war. If they so choose.