0N January 20, 2016, the Constitutional Court outlawed child marriages in what was a major victory in the fight against child marriages and for the rights of the girl child in general.
Let us revisit the case and the order granted by the ConCourt in the wake of rising and disturbing cases of child marriages in the country.
Two young Harare women, Loveness Mudzuru and Ruvimbo Tsopodzi, who were 19 and 18 years of age at the time, filed an application challenging the Customary Marriages Act which they argued infringed on the constitutional rights of young girls and boys, many of whom were getting married at an early age.
The nine-person bench, led by then Deputy Chief Justice Luke Malaba, granted the order. The bench also struck down section 22(1) of the Marriage Act, which, for decades, had allowed children under the age of 18 to formally marry.
It ruled that the section was inconsistent with section 78(1) of the Constitution, which sets 18 years as the minimum age of marriage in the country.
Part of the order read in part: “Section 22(1) of the Marriage Act or any law, practice or custom authorising a person under 18 years of age to marry or to be married is inconsistent with the provisions of section 78(1) of the Constitution and, therefore, invalid to the extent of the inconsistency. The law is hereby struck down.”
“With effect from January 20, 2016, no person, male or female, may enter into marriage, including an unregistered customary union or any other union including the one arising out of religion or religious rites, before attaining the age of eighteen (18) years.”
The court also ruled that if an underage girl fell pregnant, she would not be forced into marriage but remain under the custody of her parents.
Sadly, cases of child marriages seem to be increasing, sometimes with dire consequences for the children involved. A 2016 report by the United Nations Population Fund, showed that Zimbabwe had a 31% prevalence rate of child marriages with one in every 10 adolescent girls giving birth each year.
That percentage grew to 32,6% this year, according to a report by the Zimbabwe Gender Commission.
The issue was brought to the fore in July this year when 14-year-old Anna Machaya, died after giving birth at a Johanne Marange shrine in Bocha, Mutare. The incident highlighted the prevalence of child marriages and sexual abuse in apostolic sects.
This week, reports emerged of a Chinese national who married a 15-year-old girl from Kadoma after paying US$2 000 as bride price on November 26 this year, forcing her to drop out of school. Police in Sanyati have since rescued her.
Instead of dealing with the problem, apostolic sects have sought to politically align themselves with the ruling Zanu PF party, and its leaders have publicly voiced their support for President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s 2023 reelection bid.
In October this year, government opposed a High Court application filed by child rights activists seeking to compel the sects to campaign against child marriages at their places of worship.
The situation has become untenable, and government needs to come to the party to end this scourge.