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Early Marriages: Thousands of Zimbabwean Girls Abused

Harare – Child marriages in Zimbabwe remain high within Africa, with up to 65 percent of girls often married or getting impregnated before 1...

Harare – Child marriages in Zimbabwe remain high within Africa, with up to 65 percent of girls often married or getting impregnated before 19 years.

While other African countries have outlawed child marriages, Harare was lagging, mainly due to conflicting legal provisions on the minimum age for marriage.

By @Comic24Derick

Though the new 2013 Constitution spells that, “No person may be compelled to enter marriage against their will”, it did not expressively prohibit child marriage, and several laws effectively condoned it.

“Laws regarding child marriages were biased or somehow contradictory. Legal Age of Majority Act (LAMA) (1982) cited that a minor is anyone below 18, which means that that person is not independent and when making decisions, the person should be accompanied by an adult,” observed Tarisai Masaraure, a child activist.

Masaraure added that “On a contrary Marriage act would say marriageable age for girls is 16 and boys 18. On that note, if a minor is said to be below 18, why then make a law which marries girls at 16 years?”

More than 700 million women today were married as children – 125 million or 17 percent live in Africa. In Zimbabwe, 1 in 3 girls marries before 18, while 5, 000 girls left school due to early marriages in 2016 alone.

Child Marriages are Rampant in Zimbabwe 
Poverty, religion and tradition are the main drivers of childhood marriages, jeopardising girls’ rights, education, health and productive lives.

Landmark ruling

In 2014, UNICEF reported that, due to inaction, child marriages would double by 2050 in Africa. By 2015, Zimbabwe launched the African Union campaign to end child marriages in line with other countries.

But all changed when two former young brides, Loveness Mudzuri and Ruvimbo Tsopodzi filed an application asking the Constitutional Court to declare the Marriage Act and Customary Marriage Act a breach of the new Constitution in 2014.

After two years, Zimbabwe’s Deputy Chief Justice Luke Malaba finally outlawed child marriages before 18 years, striking off section 22(1) of the Marriage Act. Justice Malaba indicated that there is empirical evidence of the horrific consequences of child marriage.

“The studies showed that where child marriage was practiced, it was evidence of failure by the state to discharge its obligations under international human right law to protect the girl child from the social evils of social exploitation, physical abuse and deprivation of education,” ruled Justice Malaba.

Gender activism

This landmark judgment prompted gender activists to focus on early marriages during 2016, 16 Days of Activism on gender violence in Harare. “We are specialising on the topic ‘What stressed the girls out?’ So that we manage and see what is the root of early marriages is,” said Zivai Makanda, a girl child advocate.

Rural-based girls, less educated living in the developing world are twice likely to be married before 18 compared to their urban counterparts. Hunger is stalking four million Zimbabweans, and Eunice Pagwiwa, aged 17 believes marriage will free her from poverty.

“I think if I get married, I will lessen the burden upon my family because we may starve to death if the droughts persist,” reasoned Eunice from rural Masvingo known for its recurrent famines.

If this continues, by 2020 – 14.2 million girls will be married per year by their 18th birthday or 37 000 per day. About 39 percent of sub-Saharan girls marry before 18. Niger has 76%, Eastern and Southern Africa 36%.

Worrying trend

Despite the milestone decision, developments in Zimbabwe are still worrying. United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) states 31 percent of Zimbabwean girls under 18 were victims of forced marriages.

Whilst child marriages have been outlawed in Zimbabwe, they are yet to be criminalised due to existing conflicting laws. Gender activist, Kumbirai Kahiya says, “In our culture, if a girl gets pregnant we expect her to get married. So we want to ensure that the laws are not just mentioned, but are implemented.”

About 39 percent of sub-Saharan girls marry before 18. And all African countries face problems of child marriages. North Africa has moved faster in reducing child brides in the world, however, more than 700 million women alive today were married as children – 125 million or 17 percent live in Africa.

Kahiya’s observation tallies with Masaraure.

“Previous attempts to outlaw child marriages were fruitless because the law itself seemed to protect the perpetrators of child marriages. Zimbabwean laws are on paper not in reality. If you look at Marriage Act, the legislator never bothered to review it only to take action after advocacy and lobbying by gender activists,” she said. 

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