I am following with great concern, reports regarding a 14-year-old child in Mutare who lost her life while giving birth. In Zimbabwe, one out of every three girls is married before their 18th birthday. This means that hundreds of thousands of girls, like Memory Machaya are victims of child marriage - a fact that can no longer be ignored! It is the responsibility of President Mnangagwa and the current government to reform the laws and ensure that the prevention of child marriage is enforced across the country, including by religious denominations.
In 2016, the Constitutional Court outlawed child marriage and struck down section 22(1) of the Marriage Act. This means that child marriage is unconstitutional in Zimbabwe, but the law has not yet been amended to reflect what the court said. As a result, child marriages and child sexual abuse still occur, without any punishment. Our citizens, especially the girl child, do not know their rights. They do not know about the court ruling, and the current government is not enforcing the law. Zimbabwe’s marriage laws must be harmonized with the court ruling.
Section 81(2) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment No. 20 Act 2013 states that a child's best interests are paramount in every matter concerning the child and Section 81(e) protects every child from economic and sexual exploitation and any form of abuse. Still, in Zimbabwe, 34% of girls are married before the age of 18 and 5% are married before their 15th birthday. Their abusers are often men with respectable jobs who are married, have children and are regular churchgoers.
In addition, the laws in Zimbabwe recognise that a person under 18 has no locus standi, or ability, to sign a contract. A marriage is by law a contract (sui generis), so why is it possible that girls under the age of 18, who are not permitted to sign a contract to buy a wheelbarrow, are then permitted to sign or enter into a life changing, permanent contract such as a marriage? No girl child under the legal age of majority (which in Zimbabwe is currently 18 years of age) should be permitted to enter into a marriage contract.
As a society, we have a collective responsibility to prevent child marriages and the sexual exploitation of children in our country. Child marriage is a leading cause of death among girls ages 15 to 19. Girls who cohabit with men or marry before the age of 18 are more likely to drop out of school, get infected with HIV, have early pregnancies and experience domestic violence. Additionally, child brides are often abandoned by their husbands, leaving them to care for children without financial support.
As a nation, we must come together on this issue and eliminate any tolerance for sexual abuse or confusion over what society condones as appropriate interactions between adults and children. We must put an end to child marriage and make it clear that this is sexual abuse, defined as subjecting a child to sexual contact, activity, or behavior. As a political party, the United Zimbabwe Alliance, UZA will promote public education while also directly advocating for the unacceptability of child sexual abuse. We will engage society, encouraging all citizens to recognize that child sexual abuse is everyone’s problem and responsibility.
As a party we aim to:
• Create a society where all children can feel safe
• Dispel economic, religious and cultural beliefs which may be used to justify or cover up child sexual abuse
• Collaborate with nongovernmental groups and affected communities to establish a comprehensive national action plan to end child marriage
• Advocate for legislation that ensures that all laws affecting children are aligned to the Constitution of Zimbabwe, including harmonizing marriage laws with regards to the minimum marriage age
• Enable the girl child to stand up for her rights and report cases of child sexual abuse and child marriages
• Encourage and support law enforcement training to ensure that violence against women, including child marriage is investigated and prosecuted
• Facilitate the establishment of entrepreneurial ventures and other support mechanisms to protect girls from child marriage and to support those turned away by their families or currently in child marriage
• Use the power of social media and investigative journalism to weed out perpetrators
• Develop targeted outreach and support programs that provide information to children, parents, guardians, religious leaders, and community leaders about the harmful effects of child marriage
For more information about the United Zimbabwe Alliance (UZA), email us email at: email@example.com
Elisabeth Valerio, President
United Zimbabwe Alliance, UZA