A local girl rights advocacy organisation, Shamwari Yemwanasikana (SYS) has petitioned the government to take the passing of the Marriage Bill into law as a matter of urgency so as to strengthen child protection measures.
In the petition, SYS highlighted that the Marriage Bill has been tabled in Parliament for debate for about two years while girls remain vulnerable to exploitation while being sanitized as child marriages.
"We are concerned about the increasing cases of child marriages. The existing legal provisions are not being implemented and enforced to end child marriages. The delay in the passing of the Marriage Bill into law is resulting in more girls finding themselves in a sham of marriages instead of having perpetrators brought to book and ending child marriages," said SYS.
Shamwari Yemwanasikana called for strict requirement especially on marriages so that young girls can be protected from being married off before the legal age of 18.
"Access to birth and marriage registration needs to be strengthened and used as a means of detection, prevention and combating child marriages. Proof of age must be requirement for all types of marriage, either by production of a birth certificate or sworn affidavit.
"Most of the survivors of child marriages are adolescents who are not well informed on their sexual and reproductive health. Being a spouse at a young age has left them vulnerable to HIV/ AIDS and sexually transmitted infections due to their inability to negotiate safe sex. The need to prove their fertility has resulted in most girls foregoing family planning methods thus putting them at risk of maternal deaths. Therefore, there is need for access to sexual and reproductive health information and services," said SYS.
The organization further appealed for harmonization of laws that deal with children's rights to close gaps that have often exposed young girls to abuse.
"Legislation that deals with children's rights should be harmonized and aligned in line with the constitution and the international treaties that the government has assumed. Article 2l of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child prohibits child marriages and the betrothal of boys and girls with effective action including legislation that specifies the minimum age of marriage to be 18. Therefore, the need for alignment of laws to speak in harmony as far as the minimum age of marriage is concerned," added SYS.
According to Plan International, one in every three girls in Zimbabwe is married before 18 years
Zimbabwe is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, both of which advocate against harmful socio-cultural practices including forced early marriages.