In the last few days, there has been much discussion about possible amendments to be made to the Zimbabwe marriage framework.
Before any legislative amendments become law, they take the form of a draft Bill of Parliament which has to be published in the Government Gazette for public awareness. Only after the Bill has been approved and enacted will it be recognised as the law. We shall be discussing the marriage reform process in a series of articles to follow.
Before delving into the intricate workings of the current law and any proposed law, it is necessary to provide a background of the existent marriage regimes, the gaps and recommendations for improvement.
In this article we shall be focusing on the customary marriages framework as it presently stands. To recap, there are two types of marriages that are currently recognised in Zimbabwe. There is the civil or general law marriage registered under the Marriage Act (Chapter 5:11) and this marriage is of a monogamous nature. The second one which is potentially polygamous is the customary marriage which may be either registered or unregistered.
One may choose to register their customary law union in terms of the Customary Marriages Act (Chapter 5:07) or simply remain in an unregistered customary law union, which is the most common type of union in Zimbabwe as the majority of women living in the rural areas are in this type of union. There are many negative consequences which have arisen from the present laws and these issues raise many concerns particularly to the rights of women and children.
Age of consent to marriage
Firstly, the current marriage structures do not imitate the sentiments of the Constitution by stipulating that the legal age to consent to marriage is eighteen. Instead we have the civil law framework which states that nobody under the age of eighteen may consent to marriage conversely girls may get consent to marry from their guardian when they attain the age of sixteen.