Zimbabwe: Government Urged to Align Child Marriage Laws

4 February 2020

Mutare — Seven years after outlawing child marriages under the new constitution, government is still retaining laws which are fueling child marriages and teenage pregnancies, civic society players have said.

Simbabrashe Mhaso director of Batanai HIV, Aids and Sex Organization a local NGO which works on health rights issues, said the application of laws which sets sixteen years as the age of consent.

Under section 78(1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 20) 2013, 18years is set as the minimum age of marriage in Zimbabwe prohibit child marriages, but a number of laws effectively condone the practice.

Mhaso said the constitution was clear that no child under the age of eighteen is allowed to get married while other laws pegged age of sexual consent at sixteen effectively creating a two-year gap where minors are vulnerable.

"In line to the issues of sexual consent for children and also what our constitution says in terms of marriages for girls where the constitution says anyone under the age of 18 should not be married, if it happens it will be child marriage.

"The also other pieces of the laws in Zimbabwe they say children under 16 years should not engage in sexual activities, so the conflicting issue there is that the Constitution is saying no child under 18 should be married.

"However, they can engage in sex when they are sixteen when we refer to other pieces of legislation like the Children's Rights and the Gender Based Violence Act they allude to those facts that children can give consent at sixteen years," said Mhaso.

He added, "So, there is this gap of two years from sixteen to eighteen children can lawfully engage in sexual activities but they cannot be married according to the Constitution, which is the supreme law."

Mhaso said civic society organizations are collaborating to push government to plug loopholes exposed by this two-year gap, through alignment of laws, as it forces minors into child marriages and teen pregnancies.

He said it was unconstitutional for laws to remain when they are in conflict with provisions of the Constitution, which is regarded as supreme and any law which is contrary is deemed unlawful to the extent of this contradiction

"If in these two years children are deemed not mature enough to get married but are still given a right to consent to sex it becomes problematic, in fact it becomes unconstitutional for those laws to remain in effect because any law which is contrary is deemed unlawful.

"So as activists we are saying it is fueling teenage pregnancies, it is also fueling child marriages, because once a child has engaged in sex at sixteen in some circumstances it will force them to get married.

"That what we are fighting for as activists, fighting for the alignment of the laws to the Constitution and we are collaborating with other civic society players to push government to make this alignment," he said.

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