Child marriages in Zimbabwe and the failure by the State to fulfil its obligations to protect the rights of childrenPosted: 26 August, 2021
Author: Nqobani Nyathi
Researcher, Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria
Recently, there have been reports about a 14-year old child who died during childbirth. The reason why such a tragedy happened and may continue to happen is the State’s failure or unwillingness to eradicate child marriages. This article seeks to outline Zimbabwe’s legislative framework regarding child marriages and its obligations in terms of international law.
The legal position
Child marriage is illegal in Zimbabwe as held by Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court. In January 2016, the apex court rightly found that the legislative provisions legalising child marriages were inconsistent with the Constitution of Zimbabwe. The Constitution has fairly strong provisions promoting and protecting the rights of children, including the right to be protected from sexual exploitation or any form of abuse. The Court also observed that historically there has been a “lack of common social consciousness on the problems of girls who became victims of early marriages.”
The fact that child marriages had to be declared illegal through litigation exposes this lack of common social consciousness. Zimbabwe had been clinging to the archaic law legalising the marriage of children in terms of both the Marriage Act 81 of 1964 and the Customary Marriages Act 23 of 1950.
Author: Mary Izobo
International Human Rights Lawyer and Gender Advocate
The International Day of the Girl Child is commemorated globally every year on 11 October since 2012 to highlight the injustices girls face based on their gender, while advancing the fulfilment of their rights, development and wellbeing. The United Nations theme for the International Day of the Girl Child 2020 is ‘My voice, our equal future.’ There is a specific emphasis on the girl child because there is a direct form of discrimination against girls who are often deprived of their fundamental human rights. Millions of girls from birth are discriminated against on the grounds of sex and gender. This year, as we commemorate the International Day of the Girl Child, it is important to bring to the world’s attention, child marriage which continues to be an unending anathema that serves as a challenge in the fulfilment and enjoyment of the rights and welfare of the girl child.
Child marriage is the marriage of a child before he or she turns 18 years of age. It is a global phenomenon that continues to obstruct the wellbeing of young boys and girls. Child marriage affects both boys and girls, but nine in ten children married off before they turn 18 years are girls. Every two seconds, a girl is married off, before she is physically, psychologically or emotionally developed enough to become a bride or mother. An estimated 650 million women and girls in the world today were married before they turned 18 years and one-third of these women and girls were married off before they turned 15 years. According to United Nations International Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF), out of the world’s population, 1.1 billion are girls and 22 million of them are married off before they attain adulthood.