The Zimbabwean Senate has started debating the contentious issue of child marriages. The debate comes after prosecutor-general Johannes Tomana was quoted saying kids as young as 12 should be given the opportunity to marry. Tomana’s comments sparked outrage. On Tuesday, Midlands Senator and MDC shadow minister for Domestic Affairs Lilian Timveos moved a motion in the Senate demanding that the government take action to end rampant child marriages fuelled by religious beliefs and negative cultural practices, as set out below.
ENFORCEMENT OF NATIONAL LAWS WITH A VIEW TO END CHILD MARRIAGES
SENATOR TIMVEOS: I move the motion standing in my name
That this House –
AWARE that new provisions in the Constitution have made 18 the age of marriage for girls and boys;
NOTING that some elements of existing laws such as the Marriage Act and Customary Marriages Act are now unconstitutional;
CONCERNED that the Marriage Act and Customary Marriages Act have not yet been harmonized with the Constitution;
COGNISANT of the fact that Zimbabwe is a signatory of African Union and United Nations Conventions such as the Maputo Protocol, declaring 18 to be the minimum age of marriage;
ALARMED that a large number of girls are being forced into marriage before they reach the age of 18 in contravention of AU and UN guidelines;
NOW THEREFORE, recommends that the Government and leaders end child marriage by:
- a) Enacting and enforcing national laws that raise the age of marriage to 18 for both girls and boys;
- b) Using available information to identify and target trouble spots of ‘hot spots’ areas and communities with high proportions and numbers of girls at risk of child marriage and intervening to end it;
- c) Setting up prevention programmes that empower girls at risk of child marriage and addressing root causes of the problem such as poverty, ignorance and negative cultural and religious practices and beliefs;
- d) Mitigating the harmful impact of child marriage on girls by providing care and support programmes for victims and survivors.
SENATOR S. NCUBE: I second.
SENATOR TIMVEOS: Thank you Madam President, for this opportunity. Child marriage is a very evil social, economic and growing problem in Zimbabwe. It is estimated that one in three women were married before the age of 18 years and the trend still continues today.
Child marriage is a violation of the Constitution. The Constitution states that every girl or boy under the age of 18 years is to be protected from economic and sexual exploitation or any form of abuse.
Child marriage happens mainly because of poverty and ignorance. Some parents think that they can escape poverty by charging lobola or bride price for their children. Others try to dodge the responsibility of looking after their children by marrying them very early. The young girls are forced out of school and prevented from acquiring skills from the formal job market. As a result, they can only enter the workplace of unskilled labourers. Parents are also forced to marry off their daughters, which makes it even worse, because then their children are not equipped for any kind of job, and this actually makes poverty to continue. Thus, the child marriage robs girls of education, health and long term prospects.
Cultural and religious practices are also to blame for child marriage. Cultural practices of giving away girls to appease spirits of the dead or the activities of some of religious sects are also encouraging
child marriages. On this note Madam President, it is encouraging that the President of the Chiefs Council, Hon. Senator Chief Charumbira has already issued a statement against child marriages and I want to thank him today for a job well done – [HON. SENATORS: Hear. Hear.] – As legislators, we must play a very big role in awareness campaigns against child marriages.
Experts say that young people lack the emotional maturity needed for marriage. The younger the parties are, the more likely that their marriage will break down, and because they have no education and skills, these desperate young girls end up engaging in other criminal activities like sex work. We saw that when we had a workshop recently in Kadoma. Young girls are now engaging in sex work which is really bad for our country. Young girls often suffer physical injury and emotional stress from marriage because they are very young. Their bodies are not sufficiently developed and they usually experience problems when giving birth. A lot of these young girls or mothers’ babies also die during child birth.
Let me turn to the laws that govern child marriages in our country. Many people have complained about the Government’s delay in aligning our laws to the Constitution. It is obvious this process of alignment is long overdue. You might be aware that there are some young citizens of this country – Loveness Mudzuru and Ruvimbo Tsopotsi who have taken the Government to the Constitutional Court over the laws. Without really pre-empting or commenting on the on-going case, I think I want to submit that this is the right time to amend our laws.
Madam President, the Marriage Act Chapter 5.11 is unconstitutional because it allows marriage by people below the age of 18. Sections 20 and 22 of this Act say, “a girl between the age of 16 and 18 can marry with the consent of her mother or father.” The Customary Marriage Act, Chapter 5.07 is also unconstitutional on the basis that it does not provide for a minimum age of 18 years for marriage.
Zimbabwe is party to several African Union Conventions aimed at ending child marriages. It is only on implementation of these treaties that we are lagging behind. We have the African Charter on the Rights
and Welfare of the Child 1999. Article 21.2 states that, “child marriages and betrothal of girls and boys shall be prohibited and effective action, including legislation shall be taken to specify the minimum age of marriage to be 18 years and above”. Article 6 (b) of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa 2003 also known as the Maputo Protocol has the same effect. It makes it mandatory for the State parties to enact laws to guarantee that minimum age of marriage for women shall be 18 years and above.
The AU theme for 2015 is, “Women’s empowerment”. As the country’s President, Cde. R. G. Mugabe is the current AU Chairman, Zimbabwe can lead by example by taking direct actions to end child marriages.
In conclusion, as Parliament the greatest action we can take on this to bring our laws in line with international norms in protecting the rights of girls and women, the current Constitutional Court application seeks to have the minimum age written into Constitution. Government should come up with a Bill to make it illegal for boys and girls below 18 to
marry. Such a law will make it mandatory for marriage officers to ensure that marrying parties are above 18 years of age. Madam President, we can spend a lot of time talking or we can change bad laws and shape a better Zimbabwe. I thank you Madam President.