In 2016 the Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe ruled that child marriage was unconstitutional. The court struck down the section of the Marriage Act that allowed marriage under age 18. The 2013 Zimbabwean Constitution set the minimum age for marriage at 18.
But in spite of legislative change child marriage remains particularly prevalent in Zimbabwe. According to UN Women 30% of girls in Zimbabwe are married before their 18th birthday.
According to UNICEF child marriage impacts on a girl’s education, compromises her
reproductive rights, sexual health, future employment and earnings, and perpetuates personal and community poverty.
Lloyd Kuveya, Research and Advocacy coordinator at Amnesty International Zimbabwe, said to Al Jazeera: ‘Amnesty International condemns the practice of child marriage which condemns children to a cycle of poverty and lack of education and work opportunities especially for the girl child. This practice is also being practiced by certain religious sects. We call upon the government to implement the Supreme Court judgment of January 2016.’
At the time of the child marriage ban in Zimbabwe organisations such as the Legal Resources Foundation (LRF) in Zimbabwe expressed concern that merely changing legislation may not put an end to child marriage and the practice of child marriage in Zimbabwe has persisted nevertheless.
Zimbabwe has two sets of marriage laws, the Marriage Act and Customary Marriages Act. These law give no minimum age for consent to marriage and according to customary law polygamy is legal in Zimbabwe.
But a bill, the Marriages bill, that is currently debated by parliament seeks to synchronise the laws, ban marriage of anyone below 18 years and prosecute anyone involved in the marriage of a minor.
In August the practice of child marriage is again under the spotlight after the death of a 14 year old Zimbabwean girl, Memory Machaya, after she gave birth at a shrine. Her relatives alerted the local press a few days after she died.
Machaya was from the rural area of Marange in the east of the country.
The UN in Zimbabwe said in a statement it ‘notes with deep concern and condemns strongly’ the circumstances leading to the death.
Child marriage in Zimbabwe is strongly linked to poverty. The dire economic situation in Zimbabwe has worsened the situation. Child marriage is particularly prevalent in rural areas in Zimbabwe.
Lack of political will
Kuveya says: ‘It takes more than just a law to change a practice. The law acts as a deterrent but if the law is not implemented this breeds impunity. Zimbabwe is one of four countries in Southern Africa where child marriage is prevalent. The police must do their job. when they get a report that someone has married a child the police must intervene and bring a person to a court of law for prosecution.’
Kuveya added: ‘Politicians are in habit of consulting the church sects such as the Marange Apostolic sect for spiritual protection and use them for votes when it comes to elections. This is one of the reasons for the lack of political will in terms of the implementation of the law. We need to see a real shift and a stop to this selfish tendency of thinking about votes rather than the rights of the child.’
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