…as war on child marriages take shape
By Daniel Chigundu
VICE President Emmerson Mnangagwa has revealed that government is working on introducing a single Marriages Act in an effort to curb the rampant cases of child marriages which have seen an estimated 31 percent of girls in the country getting married before their 18th birthday.
Early marriages not only deprive girls of education and opportunities but also increase the risk of death or serious childbirth injuries if they have babies before their bodies are ready.
There are currently some laws in Zimbabwe that are in direct conflict with the new constitution (amendment no 20/2013) especially Sections 26 and 78 which deal with the legal age majority and the issues of consent to marriages.
Laws such as the Marriages Act, Customary Marriages Act [Chapter 5:07], Children’s Act [Chapter 5:06], Maintenance Act [Chapter 5:09] and the Citizenship Act [Chapter 4:01] all have sections that directly or indirectly allow child marriage.
Alarmed by the loopholes in the country’s statutes, child marriage victims Ruvimbo Tsopodzi and Loveness Mudzuru sought the help of the Constitutional Court (ConCourt) to ban child marriages and ultimately set 18 as the legal age of consent in line with the constitution.
Speaking at the presentation of the Parliamentarians girls-pledge to civic society recently, VP Mnangagwa said his ministry and government are committed to protecting every citizen including girls and women adding that they will be aligning some sections of marriage laws to be in line with the constitution.
“Government welcomes the Constitutional Court landmark ruling of January 20, 2016 to ban child marriages. The ruling raised the minimum age at which both men and women can marry to 18.Suffice to say that, my ministry has also identified the need to align the marriages laws to the constitution.
“Government will soon craft single a marriage laws regime that will seek to redress all areas that are currently discriminatory towards the rights of women.
“All that remains is to embark on consultative meetings so that the community is involved, as the issues pertaining to the age of consent are very contentious,” he said.
VP Mnangagwa also warned perpetrators of such crimes as forced virginity testing, female genital mutilation, pledging of women and girls for purposes of avenging spirits, forced marriages, child marriages, forced wife inheritance, sexual intercourse between fathers-in-law and newly married daughters-in-law, that they shall be guilty of an offence and liable to imprisonment or a level 14 fine, or both under the Domestic Violence Act.
Speaking at the same occasion legislator and women’s rights advocate Honourable Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga said claims that girls are being married at a younger anger to escape from hunger are nothing short of rubbish and unacceptable excuses, arguing that if people are that hungry why are they not stealing stray livestock instead.
Although there are many reasons that have been given as the causes of child marriages in Zimbabwe, the most common reasons remains hunger, poverty, cultural and religious practices.
There is however good news for the African countries as most of them appear to be entertaining the idea of banning child marriages. In June this year Tanzanian Parliament enacted laws that make it illegal for anyone to marry children and even impregnating teenagers concurrently imposing a 30 year prison sentence for perpetrators.
Gambia has equally made strides to this regard imposing a 20 year jail term for anyone who marries a girl aged below 18, a punishment that spills over to the parents and people who would have performed the marrying ceremonies.
Just a few weeks ago a Malawian female Chief rescued about 250 girls from early child marriages and sent then back to school.
While success stories have been recorded in various countries on the continent, Nigeria is said to be home to the largest number of child brides in Africa, Chad and Central African Republic are also among the countries with the highest rates of child marriage today.