HWANGE district junior parliamentarians, senators and councillors plan to lobby the government to align marriage laws with the Constitution in a bid to end child marriages.
BY TINASHE MUNGAZI
A position paper presented by the group at a recently held district stakeholders meeting on the increase of child sexual abuse cases, which was organised by Basilwizi Trust and Buwalo Matiliko Trust (BMT), shows that although other factors such as poverty and cultural practices play a key role, the non-alignment of laws was a major stumbling block in the fight to end marriages involving children.
Research showed that 28 girls had dropped out of school due to pregnancy or early marriages in the last quarter of 2018 in the district. According to police statistics, Hwange district experienced a 40% increase in child sexual abuse and early child marriage cases.
“Numerous initiatives have been proffered by government and civil society organisations to try and minimize early marriages, but to no avail. To date, we still continue to experience more girl children dropping out of school due to early marriages. From a sample of four secondary schools done in the district, it came out that a total of 28 girls had dropped out of school either due to early pregnancies or marriages during the third term of 2018.
“At the launch of the World Vision child protection project, in September this year, the police confirmed that girl child abuse was on the rise by approximately 40% from 2017. The issue of early marriage shortens a girl’s childhood, creates serious physical and psychological health risks and denies her of her rights,” the position paper read.
“The major challenge perpetuating child marriage in the rural areas in Zimbabwe is the non-alignment of the marriage laws to the national Constitution. The civil marriage (Marriage Act 5.11) sets the legal age of marriage at 16 and permits marriages of those below 16 on the consent by the Chief Justice or Ministry of Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, and yet the legal age of majority is at 18 years. Why the difference?”
The new Constitution, enacted in 2013, protects girls from being compelled or pledged into marriage against their will, while the 2016 landmark constitutional ruling outlawed child marriages, making some sections of the Marriages Act ultra vires.
The junior lawmakers said perpetrators often took advantage of the conflicting laws to marry off young girls.
“Early marriages under customary law are widespread. Registered customary law is silent on the legal age of marriage, creating a fertile ground for child abuse and the proliferation of child marriages. Upon falling pregnant, most minors resort to eloping and co-habiting with their partners; living as husband and wife. This type of marriage realises many divorce cases, since there is nothing that binds them.”
The paper called for concerted efforts by stakeholders in ensuring enforcement of the laws to curb child marriages.
“Addressing child marriage in Hwange district is an urgent matter, given that children are future leaders and also in light of realising the constitutional provision on gender equality and promotion of women participation in the development process,” the paper read.
“To this end, it demands the concerted efforts by all actors involved, such as parents, the judiciary, government, non-governmental organisations, religious, communities and tribal leaders to end child marriages.”
In January 2016, the Constitutional Court ruled that the Marriages Act, which permitted girls as young as 16 to be married with their parents’ consent, was unconstitutional. The Constitution recognises 18 years as the legal minimum age for marriage. Despite the various international, regional and domestic legislation that prohibit child marriages, the practice is still rampant in Zimbabwe.
BMT director, Anna Mandizha-Ncube, whose organisation is implementing a project targeting early child marriages and gender-based violence, said government should facilitate the alignment of conflicting laws.
“Poverty is playing an integral role in child marriages and also the non-alignment of laws. We have Acts of Parliament that are in conflict and as a result of having no legal statutes that allow law enforcers to act on perpetrators. People are taking advantage of the loopholes,” Mandizha-Ncube said.
“We now need to have a petition that will be submitted to Parliament. We are going to assist the junior councillors and parliamentarians to lobby the ministry and parliament.”
The dialogue was attended by officials from the National Prosecuting Authority, Victim Friendly Unit, civil society, traditional leaders, government departments, councillors and district administrator.