SPEAKER of the National Assembly Jacob Mudenda has urged Members of Parliament (MPs) to advocate for stiffer penalties for child marriages when crafting child rights laws.
He said child marriages were now rampant in the country, especially among members of apostolic sects.
MPs had demanded that Parliament should do something to protect the girl child from early marriage during a sitting last week.
The most recent case of child marriage is that of apostolic sect member Madzibaba Never Muzorora (65) of Chiredzi, whose picture with a 10-year-old girl said to be his wife went viral on social media. He has since been arrested.
Last year, a 14-year-old girl died while giving birth at an apostolic sect shrine in Marange.
“While it is good that you request that the State President (Emmerson Mnangagwa) addresses the apostolic sect about child marriages, I thought you were going to include yourselves as Members of Parliament as well to do the same, but more importantly, what seems to work is a law,” Mudenda said.
“You must look at the law on child marriages in this and perhaps come up with stiffer penalties. As we debate and review our laws, please take into account and rally your views with your colleagues so that you have a common approach to the issue.”
Although Zimbabwe has ratified various international conventions and declarations on child rights, particularly the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979), many girls continue to suffer at the hands of religious sect members.
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Zimbabwe has put in place various national legislative instruments aimed at safeguarding the girl child’s rights, particularly the Marriages Act, which forbids girls to marry before the age of 18, thanks to the January 2016 Constitutional Court landmark judgment that declared 18 years as the legal age of marriage.
The court ruling also deemed all forms of child marriages unconstitutional.
Despite the landmark ruling and international conventions as well as domestic legislative instruments, child marriages remain prevalent in Zimbabwe particularly among religious groups and rural communities.
According to the United Nations Population Fund, more than 32% of girls in Zimbabwe are married before the age of 18 and 12% of them are married off before the age of 15.