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.
The Marriage Bill (now Act) 2014 has elicited different reactions from Kenyans. Some mostly women, have argued that the law will allow men to engage in polygamous marriages. Some have hailed the law as consolidating the different types of marriages into one piece of legislation. However, the people with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities have completely been left out of this debate. The law clearly discriminates and expressly denies people with mental disorders from exercising their right to marry. Section 11(2)(b) of the Marriage Act 2014 provides:-
Consent is not freely given where the party who purports to give it is suffering from any mental disorder or mental disability whether permanent or temporary…
The Act further provides in section 73 that if one suffers from ‘recurrent bouts of insanity’ then the partner is allowed to have the marriage annulled. This essay seeks to argue that the Marriage Act 2014 not only violates Kenya’s obligation under international law but also violates the Constitution of Kenya 2010 Article 27(4), which proscribes discrimination based on disability.