By John Chimunhu|
Justice minister and acting president Emmerson Mnangagwa was scheduled to appear at the constitutional court on Wednesday (Jan. 14) over the government’s apparent failure to end child marriages in Zimbabwe.
The lawsuit was brought by women’s rights defenders Loveness Mudzuru and Ruvimbo Tsopodzi, who also cited the minister of women’s affairs and the attorney-general as respondents.
The applicants were asking the court to declare:
* that under the constitution, noone in Zimbabwe, whether boy or girl, may enter into marriage, including an unregistered customary union before attaining the age of 18 years.
* that section 18 of the Marriages Act, which allows marriage before 18, is unconstitutional.
* that the Customary Marriages Act is unconstitutional to the extent that it does not provide for a minimum age of 18 years for customary marriages.
Although the Zimbabwean constitution is not specific on the minimum age for marriage, the activists want the government to abide by international conventions outlawing child marriage. The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights of Women, the so-called Maputo protocol both state that the minimum age for marriage shall be 18. As a party to both conventions, Zimbabwe is obliged to ensure that people do not marry before the age of majority, legal experts told Now Daily.
“Child marriage is recognised as a social evil in most countries of the world. It largely occurs because of ignorance and poverty: poor and uneducated parents, unable to support all their children, often marry off their daughters as soon as possible in order to relieve themselves of the burden of keeping them. Where dowries or bride price are payable, parents have an added incentive to secure husbands for their daughters at an early age,” said legal monitors Veritas. “Young people generally lack the emotional maturity needed for marriage. The younger the parties are when they contract a marriage, the more likely it is that their marriage will break down.”
Experts also note that girls often suffer physical injury from marriage.
“Their bodies are not sufficiently developed at puberty to cope with childbirth and if they become pregnant mother and baby are endangered,” Veritas said.
The experts also note that early marriage condemns women to a life of poverty as their education is often disrupted and prospects of getting skilled work are eliminated. The cycle is then repeated as poor parents also marry off their young daughters to escape the responsibility of looking after them on meager resources.
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