MIDLANDS Province’s Chief Muhumbane said traditional leaders and chiefs must be granted powers to punish child marriages offenders if the prevailing surge in child marriages cases is to be nipped in the bud.
By Michael Gwarisa
Speaking during a Chief’s Indaba in Gweru, Chief Muhumbane said there was conflict between customary law and criminal law and as a result, chiefs were battling to combat Child marriages.
“Your excellency, we ask that there be clarity on issues of customary law and criminal law. Many a timers, you find that offenses are committed and because of the distance between communal areas and the nearest criminal courts, some cases just die natural death without justice being served.
“We want access to justice your Excellency and we want to be given powers to pass judgements and sentences to issues of child marriages,” said Chief Muhumbane.
Child marriages have been on the rise in Zimbabwe especially in communal remote areas owing to a plethora of factors chief among them being poverty and poor access to information and traditional beliefs. In most cases, girls are given away as objects to appease avenging spirits or as collateral for debts.
Marrying off young girls is common in rural areas, farming and mining communities where the educational, social and economic prospects for girls are usually very limited.
According to the Zimbabwe Development Health Survey of 2012, 60% of households in Zimbabwe are child headed. This constitutes an already vulnerable group as they lack education and financial independence. Twenty percent of those children are orphans and this perpetuates their vulnerability to child marriages.
A United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) Report on Child Marriage and Law, indicated that discrimination often manifests itself in the form of domestic violence, marital rape, deprivation of food, lack of access to information, education, healthcare and general impediments to mobility.
Certain religious practices fuel child marriages. Girls and young women are married off before the legal age of marriage in the name of religion and church practice. However, some repentant churches are fighting the scourge. These member churches to the Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe (ACCZ) have come up with a gender work-plan on activities to end child marriages.