A Call for Government to Protect Children and Ensure that Zimbabwe Stops Marriages of 16 Year Olds
Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association (ZWLA) is concerned with the with the continuous marrying off of 16 year olds, despite the fact that the new Constitution provides that the right to marry and found a family is limited to men and women who have attained the age of majority which is 18 years.
The new Constitution recognises the fact that marriage is an important institution which should not be entered into by vulnerable children whose level of physical and emotional maturity demands parental care and protection, and not to be prematurely burdened with the rigours and responsibilities of marriage.
The new Constitution further entrenches the right of every boy and girl below the age of 18 years to be treated equally before the law.
The current Constitution was however ushered in in an era where the provisions of the current marriage laws are at variance with the Marriage Rights set out in the new Constitution.
The Marriage Act [Chapter 5:11] provides that a girl between the ages of 16 and 18 may, with the joint consent of her mother and father, enter into a civil marriage under the Marriage Act. The Marriage Act prohibits the marriage of girl children below the age of 16 years. The Marriage Act does not however permit a boy below the age of 18 years to contract a marriage under the Marriage Act.
More disturbingly, the Customary Marriages Act [Chapter 5:07] does not specify a marriageable age for persons intending to contract a customary law marriage.
ZWLA is concerned that the government has not prioritised the alignment of the marriage laws with the new Constitution so as to provide for the equal treatment of children under the marriage laws, be they civil or customary, and for the prohibition of the marriage of every boy and girl below the age of 18 years.
ZWLA therefore urges the government to:
- Immediately amend the Marriage Act and the Customary Marriage Act so as to affirm the age of marriage under civil and customary law is 18 years.
- Educate traditional and religious leaders and the general public about the harmful effects of child marriages.
- To abolish the provisions in the Marriages Act that presently allow girls under the age of 16 and boys under the age of 18 to be married under the Marriages Act with the written consent of the Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs.
- Implement policies and measures that will ensure the prosecution of legal guardians who marry off children below the legal age of marriage.