A Call to an End to Child, Forced and Early Marriages in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) is alarmed by media reports that a 14-year old girl, Memory Machaya, passed away recently while giving birth at an apostolic sect church shrine in Marange in Manicaland province, and reports that child, forced and early marriages are increasing in Zimbabwe.

The culture of child, forced and early marriages in Zimbabwe perpetuates gender-based violence and undermines the health, growth, dignity, security and development of the girl child in Zimbabwe. Child, forced and early marriages are also linked to higher rates of school dropouts, unintended pregnancies due to sexual abuse and also increased risks of miscarriage, unsafe abortions, stillbirth, intrauterine haemorrhage and increased vulnerability to HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections among young girls.

Zimbabwe has a clear obligation under international and regional treaties and conventions and national legislation to take measures to prevent child marriages and address all forms of violence against women and girls. Sections 78 and 81 of the Constitution provide that anyone below the age of 18 years is a child, and the Constitutional Court has confirmed that marriage with children under 18 years is prohibited. Section 78(2) of the Constitution provides that no person can be compelled to enter into a marriage against their will. Section 70 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act (Chapter 9:23) provides that any person who has sexual intercourse with a person below the age of 16 years, with or without their consent, shall be guilty of rape or aggravated indecent assault or indecent assault. The Domestic Violence Act (Chapter 5:16) criminalises abuse derived from any cultural or customary rites or practices, including child and forced marriages that discriminate against or degrade girls and women.

Sadly, in spite of these legal protections, there is an on-going and unabated practice in religious and cultural sects of rape, child abuse, and marrying-off young girls, exposing them to child pregnancies and worse.

It is against this background that ZLHR calls on:

  • Members of the apostolic sect to desist from practising these harmful practices as they expose young girls to sexual predators and is tantamount to rape and child abuse.
  • The Zimbabwe Republic Police and human rights institutions such as the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) and the Zimbabwe Gender Commission (ZGC) to investigate this issue and bring the perpetrators to account according to section 245 of the Constitution. Law enforcement agencies should enforce the law without fear, favour or prejudice.
  • The Parliament of Zimbabwe to pass the Marriages Bill 2019 into law as a matter of urgency, during its current sitting, to align the legislation with sections 78 and 81 of the Constitution by repealing outdated provisions allowing young girls to get married at 16 years, or younger with the consent of the minister.
  • All stakeholders such as the civil society, ZHRC, ZGC, traditional and church leaders to coordinate themselves and engage on child, early and forced marriages.
  • All stakeholders to conduct awareness programmes to inform rural and urban dwellers about the dangers of child, early and forced marriages and the laws that are being violated. It is also important to educate society as a whole about gender-based violence and the laws and policies that exist in the country.
  • Communities to report child, early and forced marriages to the police and other stakeholders working in this area. Most cases remain under reported due to fear of retribution.

Source: Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights

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