18 May 2017

Zimbabwe: Act to Criminalise Child Marriages

Cabinet has approved 31 principles to be used in the amendment of the Children's Act to align it with the Constitution through criminalising child marriages and punishing parents who negligently fail to acquire birth certificates for their children, among other offences.

The principles were crafted by the Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Prisca Mupfumira after consultations and outreach programmes.

Speaking during a four-day workshop for the Children's Amendment Bill in Nyanga, acting legal advisor in the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, Mr Kudzaishe Havazvide, said the principles got Cabinet's nod.

He said a Zero Draft Bill will soon be forwarded to the Attorney General's Office for crafting of the final Bill. "The process of amending the Children's Act is already in motion and Cabinet recently approved 31 principles which will guide us in the drafting of the Bill," said Mr Havazvide.

"After this gathering, we will then hand over our Zero Draft Bill to the AG's Office." The Constitution of Zimbabwe (2013) provides for a Children's Bill of Rights, which, among other things, defines a child as someone below the age of 18, unlike the current law which defines a child as someone under 16 years of age. Although the Constitutional Court outlawed child marriages, there is no law criminalising the same. The law also makes it an obligation for parents to acquire birth certificates for their children, as some children end up suffering identity crisis and being deprived a right to sit for public examinations. The Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare ministry has initiated the process of amending the laws to criminalise certain breaches of the children's rights. The Bill also seeks to criminalise failure to acquire birth certificates for children as a form of neglect. Principle 13, which deals with the right of a child to birth registration, is premised on Section 81(b) of the Constitution which guarantees a child's right to a name and a family name.

Minister Mupfumira, in the approval request sent to Cabinet, said parents should be penalised for such neglect. "Some parents or guardians simply ignore birth registration of a child until compelling circumstances like school registration arise," she said in a statement. "This hampers our efforts to provide the relevant social services to the child. This constitutional right to registration at birth must be adhered to."

The principles also seeks to criminalise sex grooming or practices like chinamwari, as forms of child abuse. Cabinet approved the idea of properly regulating the administration of corporal punishment to ensure that it did not offend the Constitution.

A High Court judgement by Justice Hlekani Mwayera which abolished the distinction of children born out of wedlock and those born in wedlock will also be reduced into law in line with the supreme law of the country.

The process also seeks to amend the age of criminal responsibility from seven years to 12 years, in line with the international obligations. The ministries of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary and Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, including various stakeholders are attending the write shop that is being funded by the Centre for Applied Legal Research.

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