Local women groups have called on the government to criminalize the practice of child marriages in the country saying loopholes in the constitution needs to be addressed to protect the girl child.
Addressing various women groups today in Harare, Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association (ZWLA) Director, Abigail Matsvai emphasized that government should criminalize the act of marrying a girl below the age of 18.
“We call upon the law to criminalize this issue of child marriages, marrying a child below the age of 18 should be a crime that actually gets one arrested, these are things that we need attended to,
“In terms of our Marriages Act section 22 (1) it allows for a girl to be married at the age of 16 and this is a problem, this is not line with what the constitution is saying and the regional and international instruments that Zimbabwe has signed, so there is a gap there that needs to be addressed,
“Our Customary Marriages Act has no minimum age of marriage set, that again is a problem. Someone is marrying under customary practice and saying it is permissible because there is no age limit and that continues to perpetuate issues of child marriages that we see happening in the country,
“Our children’s act still these still define a child as someone aged 16, this is against what the constitution has said as the constitution has defined a child as someone below the age of 18 so this needs to be addressed, the children’s act also defines a child as someone below the age of 16 and 18 which then creates confusion when we look at the implementer of the law, however it is important to remember that the constitution is the supreme law, we need the law to define a child as someone below the age of 18,” said Matsvai.
She went on to add that the maintenance act has gaps that needs to be addressed.
“The maintenance act needs to be addressed because if a child below 16 gets married that child can no longer receive maintenance and this is a problem because it continues to perpetuate that this child can be married and is now an adult and yet in actual fact the constitution has said that anyone below the age of 18 is a child. These are some of the laws that are problematic when we talk about the issue of child marriages,
“Therefore we call upon the government to attend to these issues urgently, we still cannot be talking about laws that allow a child below the age of 18 to be married, we need the Ministry of Justice to finalize the harmonization of marriages bill that they are working on and it be presented before parliament , we also call on parliament to enact these laws that speak to the issue of marriage and categorically state that the minimum age of marriage should be 18 and nothing below that,” added Matsvai.
Child Marriages are still on the rise in the country and according to a UNICEF report in 2015 child marriage in Mashonaland Central recorded 50%, Mashonaland East 36%, Mashonaland West 42%, Midlands 31%, Manicaland 30%, Matebeleland North 27%, Harare 19%, Matebeleland South 18% and Bulawayo 10%.