Marriages Bill to tackle child marriages

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BY KUDAKWASHE TAGWIREYI/METHEMBE SIBANDA

CHILD rights groups have welcomed the Marriages Bill, which was passed in Parliament last week, saying it will curb the scourge of child marriages in the country.

The Bill was passed on Tuesday last week.

It was initially passed in the National Assembly in 2020 but was held up in Senate after traditional leaders objected to a clause that said payment or non-payment of a bride price could not be regarded as a barrier in solemnising marriage between two consenting adults if they satisfied the requirements of the law.

The new amendments allow marriage officers, who include traditional leaders, to solemnise customary marriages and to allow parties to marry even if lobola is not paid.

Recently, the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (Zimstat) revealed that 33,7% of girls under the age of 18 in the country were married, and in comparison, 2% of boys become household leaders before the age of 18. Zimbabwe is among the 20 African countries where child marriages are prevalent.

Child marriages are more prevalent in Mashonaland where 52,1% of girls get married before the age of 18, while Bulawayo has the lowest prevalence rate of 10,9%.

Women in Law in Southern Africa director Fadzai Traquino said the government now needs to decentralise the justice delivery system to fully implement the law.

“They are also issues to do with impunity, for instance access to justice.

“Our justice delivery system is not yet fully decentralised to deal with sexual offences.

“Prosecution only happens at regional courts and not all towns in our country host these regional courts or the High Court for instance.

“We have been advocating decentralising the court system and this requires resources to the judicial services systems as they are important stakeholders in dealing with sexual offences,” Traquino said.

She also urged the government to deal with inconsistencies in sentencing of offenders.

“There has been a lot of advocacy around mandatory sentencing. We need to put a strong message around sexual abuse, because a lot of child pregnancies and abuses emanate from gender based violence.

“If we have strong mandatory sentencing, say a minimum of at least 25 years, it will send a strong message for people to stay away from sexually abusing young children,” she said.

Chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health, Ruth Labode said even when the Bill is signed into law, there was need for enforcement to ensure that sexually active children get access to contraceptives.

“As MPs we visited Rwanda and found out that if a girl less than 18 years gets pregnant they can be allowed to go for abortion in consultation with their parents if they do not want the pregnancy.

“We know that some 12-year olds are already engaging in sexual activities and those must be given opportunities to access contraceptives,” Labode said. “If a child cannot access contraceptives because she is young, she will get pregnant and definitely marriage will be the next option.”