Calls To Fast track Adoption Of The Marriage Bill Get Louder

THE Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on women affairs together with women and girls rights advocates and organizations have called for the speedy adoption of the marriages bill which classifies child marriage as a serious criminal offense so as to end child marriages.

By Michael Gwarisa

Speaking during a virtual National Symposium on Child Marriages that was organized by Musasa Project, Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development Chairperson, Honorable Chido Madiwa said the high prevalence of child marriages in Zimbabwe was inconsistent with the country’s goals and development aspirations.

Despite all the campaigns the country through platforms such as Girls Child Network, UNICEF and others, child marriage is still on the increase. Section 78 of the constitution on marriage rights sets the minimum age for marriage at 18 and prohibits forced marriage and states that no person shall be compelled to marry against their will. I am pleased to say child marriage is preventable

“Given the progress covered in ending child marriages in the country, what is left is fast tracking the adoption of the marriage bill that recognizes child marriage as a crime. Let me stress that we want to fast track the Marriage Bill that recognizes child marriage as a serious crime. Engaging Policy makers, traditional leaders, religious leaders and local communities in contributing towards ending child marriage is key to ending early and forced marriages in our country,” said Honorable Madiwa.

The minimum age for marriage under civil law in Zimbabwe was set at 18 for boys and 16 for girls with parental consent with the possibility of legal marriage below this age with ministerial consent. She added that the death of Anna Machaya had rejuvenated the fight for a better and clear policy framework again child marriages.

“The tragic incident whereby a 14-year-old girl died while giving birth in the absence of health services testifies that laws alone can not end child marriages. As you may have realized, too many laws are enacted without putting in place community-based mechanisms that enforce implementation and compliance.

“In addition, religious and customary law cannot adequately protect girls from child marriages and coerced marriages. Parental consent further compounds this harmful practice, making the principle of the best interest of the child illusive. Child marriage remains a global challenge despite being recognized as a violation of the human rights of children to health, equality and non-discrimination.”

Major drivers of child marriages in Zimbabwe include poverty in rural areas, weak laws and the perception that marriage provides protection among other things.  Honorable Madiwa added that child marriages should be classified under forced marriages and stiffer penalties should be enforced.

Memory Kadau, Director for Adult Rape Clinic however said there is need for
engaging communities more and sensitizing them on the existing laws against 
child marriages.

“It has been five years since the Constitutional Court ruled that the age of consent is 18 and unfortunately abuse continues to happen in homes and communities despite the laws clearly stating what must and must not be done. It is upon all duty bearers, society and policy makers to end the scourge of child marriages in Zimbabwe.

“We need tangible outcomes as well as adopt a multi sectorial approach in this fight against child marriages. We need to rope in everybody as well as strengthen access to justice for survivors of abuse,” said Kadau.

Shamwari Yemwanasikana Director Ekenia Chifamba said the Anna Machaya case was just but a drop in the ocean of the prevalence of child marriages in the country.

“The effects of child marriages if ignored can be very devastating. We can’t separate the issue of child marriages with our Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) particularly SDG 1, SDG3, SDG4 and 5. Child marriage is not just a rural issue. Its is both rural and urban and what only differs is the environment these young girls are coming from.

“The Anna Machaya case is just a drop in the ocean of how bad the child marriages issue is in Zimbabwe with a number of push factors and sadly our young girls are being taken advantage of in places where they are supposed to be protected and feel safe around and by close and trusted allies as well,” said Chifamba.

She added that the COVID-19 pandemic had worsened child marriages and Gender Based Violence scenario in the country and the world over. She also said Shamwari Yemwanasikna had attended to about 2,500 cases of GBV between January 2020 and June 2021 cases of GBV.

Meanwhile, Musasa Project Director Precious Taru said child marriages should be treated as rape and never be sanitized as a form of marriage.

“Child marriages for Musasa is the worst violation that we can condone in a country. Imagine a 14 year old being classified as married. We can’t say just call it marriage, it’s not a marriage, its rape. Its something that we need to continuously engage and admit that we have a problem on our hands as a country.

“A lot has been said about research around early child marriages but I think it’s about time we listen to these children’s voices and listen to what they are saying in their so called marriages where they are being abused mentally and where they are being socially incapacitated,” said Ms Taru.



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