Nyemudzai Kakore Herald Correspondent
LEGISLATORS on Wednesday made a declaration to protect the girl child by signing a petition pushing for the enactment of laws that shield children below the age of 18 from entering into marriages.
More than 70 National Assembly members had signed the petition by the end of the day, saying current laws did not adequately address the vulnerability of girls, leaving them exposed to discrimination and exploitation.
The petition came a day after Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa revealed that Government was coming up with a raft of measures to clamp down on under-age marriages. Among the proposed measures, it will be an offence for parents and guardians to accept lobola for children under the age of 18.
“We, Members of Parliament of Zimbabwe, cognisant of the need to protect and advance the welfare of the girl child, concerned that girls, in particular adolescent girls, continue to be silent and invisible victims of violence, abuse and exploitation, sign this petition,” reads the document in part.
“We are deeply concerned that most girls become victims of HIV and Aids and sexually transmitted diseases. We therefore declare that we will protect the girl child from abuse and will not improperly associate with girls under 18 years of age.”
VP Mnangagwa, who also oversees the Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Ministry, said Government was not waiting for a Constitutional Court ruling outlawing child marriages to act, but had already identified several pieces of legislation that ought to be aligned with the Constitution. Zanu-PF legislator for Chakari Cde Aldrin Musiiwa, who is also Deputy Minister of Health and Child Care, said children should be given a chance to develop fully before marriage as there were health implications if they entered marriages at a tender age.
“We must strengthen the country’s laws because internationally we have signed covenants and charters to protect the girl child. This is part of domesticating our local laws so that they comply with international standards,” he said.
“Our data shows that young girls who commence sexual activities early are more prone to HIV infections than those that delay sexual activity, as they don’t have the ability to negotiate for safe sex. I want to urge certain religious sects to desist from marrying off young girls.”
Mazowe South MP Cde Fortune Chasi said he was going to support laws that nail culprits who marry under-age girls.
Said Senator Chief Fortune Charumbira: “It is very irresponsible for parents to bear children and then discriminate them against, this is barbaric. The true African culture, not this poisoned culture, respects and takes care of children, they do not abuse the rights of children.”
Bulawayo East MP Ms Thabita Khumalo commended male MPs who signed the petition for showing the electorate that there is need to respect the girl child.
Proportionate representative MP Ms Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga said male legislators should take a leading role if the country is to clamp down on child marriages.