Child marriages should be criminalised: Lawyers

Mr Biti

Mr Biti

Daniel Nemukuyu Senior Court Reporter
Lawyers have urged Government to speedily enact the law criminalising child marriages and to raise the age of sexual consent from 16 years to 18 years, as a way of protecting vulnerable children from abuse. The call came at a time when the country’s hopes were pinned on the recent landmark judgement of the Constitutional Court, which outlawed child marriages and pegged 18 years as the minimum age for marriage. Judgement did not amend the minimum age of sexual consent and it remained at 16.

Since the passing of the judgement, an Act of Parliament has not yet been passed to criminalise child marriages. Addressing a meeting organised by Women’s Comfort Corner Foundation in Harare on Tuesday, constitutional lawyer Mr Tendai Biti said Government should quickly come up with the law that makes the famous landmark judgement Mudzuru and Tsopodzi Versus Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, enforceable. Mr Biti said the judgement only outlaws child marriages, but men were still free to be intimate with girls of 16 years of age.

“Government has not yet moved to enact a law that actualises the Constitutional Court judgement,” he said. The age of sexual consent is still at 16 years. What this practically means is that men are barred from marrying young girls, but they can still sleep with them. An Act of Parliament must quickly be enacted to criminalise child marriages and to raise the age of sexual consent.”

In an interview, University of Zimbabwe law lecturer and Women and Law in Southern Africa director Mrs Slyvia Chirawu-Mugomba called for speedy crafting of the law and harsh penalties for the offenders. The time is now to make child marriage a crime in the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act Chapter 9:23,” she said.

“Harsh penalties need to be factored in as without criminalisation, we will continue to celebrate a progressive judgement, but with no progress. Girl children will continue to be ‘married’ often in secrecy. Criminal law must protect children who have been robbed of their innocence.” The Women’s Comfort Corner Foundation, an organisation headed by Mrs Rita Marque Mbatha, works towards advancing and protecting the rights of all women and children. The organisation provides psychosocial support to the victims of sexual and gender-based violence.

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