Alignment of Child Laws Key To Reducing Early Marriages
Stakeholders in the child rights movement have urged government to speed up the alignment of marriage laws to the constitution in line with the SADC model law which criminalizes child marriages.
The call was made by various stakeholders at the belated Day Of The African Child commemorations in Harare who said there was a need to decisively deal with the scourge of child marriages.
Shamwari Yemwana Sikana (SYS) Director, Ekenia Chifamba said policy inconsistencies has been a major undoing in as far as fighting the vice is concerned.
“We have developed quite a number of policies, there is the National Heath Policy, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs also developed their strategy but we cannot ignore the current situation as far as our policies are concerned because that is the major gap that is there
“Of cause we can talk about the strategies that have been developed and how the Civil Societies have managed to join hands with the government ministries and sometimes with the embassies to ensure that there is action. But we need to ensure that we address those gaps because we have the constitution saying no child under 18 should be married off and then we have the domestic violence act which says a completely different thing as the age is pegged at 16.
“Then we have the Children’s Bill that also says something different, so we need to align these laws if we want to make an impact and send out a clear message,” she said.
Chifamba noted that in as much as they lobby for Child Marriages to end, capacitating children in the fight will also help.
Critics say Section 21 of the Marriage Act (Chapter 5:11) allows the marriage of minors by written consent of their legal guardian(s), and if for whatever reason consent cannot be obtained, a High Court judge may grant consent to the marriage.
According to Child President, Innocent Chikwanda, efforts to curb child marriages are often scuppered by lack of political will from the legislature.
“We are saying issues that affect children should be taken seriously, it should be taken seriously from the policies when they are being drafted. We want children to be involved in every way of crafting these policies and we appeal fro political will from the powers that be to make sure that they align the necessary laws that affect the children to the constitution,” he noted.
Canadian Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Rene’ Cremonese, said there is need for a collective effort from both men and women including officials adding that his government has carried out small scale projects in educating girls on the dangers of child marriage.
Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Chapter 9:23 stipulates the age of consent for sexual inter course.
The same code criminalize perpetrators who have sexual intercourse with a person who is below the age of 16 years and according to Cremonese there is, therefore, a disharmony in the laws and a gap that has to be filled in the laws on child marriages.