Emulate Zim in outlawing child marriages, regional countries told

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Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf) has challenged regional countries to emulate Zimbabwe and step up efforts to outlaw child marriages.

By Phyllis Mbanje

This follows the ground-breaking ruling by the Constitutional Court on January 20, where section 22(1) of the Marriage Act, which allowed children under the age of 18 to marry, was struck off the statutes after it was adjudged to be inconsistent with the Constitution.

While the Constitution clearly defines a child as someone below the age of 18, the Marriage Act set 16 years as the minimum age of marriage.

“It is our hope as PSAf that other Southern African countries will follow suit in outlawing this barbaric practice,” the organisation’s director, Lilian Kiefer said.

She urged the Zimbabwean government to ensure that the ruling was observed by all stakeholders, including religious and customary leaders.

In 2014 and 2015, PSAf implemented a media project to lobby southern African countries – Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique – to end child marriages.

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The project raised awareness on the drivers of child marriage in the region, prompting and stimulating discussions and dialogue to influence policy changes and legal reforms against the practice.

“Child marriage is a violation of children’s rights and adversely affects the development of the child. It undermines all the fundamental rights of the children who are forced into it, whatever the circumstances,” Kiefer said.

Meanwhile, a local organisation, Real Open Opportunities for Transformation Support (Roots), has called on Parliament to speed up the alignment of the Marriages Act with the new Constitution.

Roots, together with Veritas, supported two child brides Loveness Mudzuru and Ruvimbo Tsopodzi and through lawyer, Tendai Biti filed a ConCourt challenge against Customary Law and the Marriage Act.

Roots director, Beatrice Savadye said her organisation would continue lobbying for imposition of stiffer penalties on child rights offenders.