23pc females cohabited before 18 — Study Mr Tachiwenyika

Ray Bande Mutare Bureau
OVER 23 percent of females aged between 18 and 24 were once married or cohabited before they turned 18, the Young Adults Survey of Zimbabwe has revealed.

Young Adults Survey of Zimbabwe (YASZ) is the latest research study on children and adolescents’ risk of HIV and child violence recently completed by the Ministry of Health and Child Care as the lead institution together with key partners that include ZimStat and United States-backed President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

It was officially launched in Harare last week.

Presenting results of the research study to members of the media in a sensitisation session held before the official launch, Mr Emmanuel Tachiwenyika, the Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric AIDS Foundation technical adviser, said the number of females aged between 18 and 24 who were once married or lived with a partner before they turned 18 was high.

“The study showed that 23,3 percent of females aged between 18 and 24 were once married or lived with someone as if married before they turned 18 and 1,6 percent of males in the same age also once married or lived with someone as if married before they turned 18,” said Mr Tachiwenyika.

“This is relatively high on the part of women or females who were once married or lived with someone as if married before they turned 18. It is worrisome.”

Data was collected for the YASZ between January 2017 and August 2017 in selected districts in Zimbabwe and the results are reflective of the trend nationwide.

The high number of females subjected to marriage before 18 persists even after Zimbabwe’s landmark judgment in 2016 declared 18 as the legal minimum age of marriage, while all forms of child marriage deemed unconstitutional.

Before the 2016 landmark judgment, girls could get married at age 16, while boys could marry at 18.

But legal experts are on record querying the landmark Constitutional Court ruling outlawing marriage for people under the age of 18, saying it creates a “grey area” in the law which sets the age of consent at 16.

Lawyers accused Parliament of failing to comprehensively review all pieces of legislation that needed to be reformed following the adoption of the country’s new Constitution in 2013.

Mutare lawyer Mr Passmore Nyakureba said Zimbabwean law had serious inconsistencies on the question of consent to sex and marriage.

“Firstly, the Constitution recognises that the age at which a person can marry is only 18 years and above, but the same Constitution does not address the issue of consent to sex, leaving it to punitive laws such as the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act which punishes any person who has sex with a person below the age of 16 years,” he said.

“Again, the Constitution recognises that a child is a person under the age of 18, which is the age of majority, but does not protect those people it acknowledges as children from sexual exploitation at all.

“As it is, children are deemed capable of consenting to sex as long as they are 16 and above. This is glaring anomaly that calls for urgent attention and hopefully the Ninth Parliament will rectify that through an amendment of the criminal law to punish anyone with sexual relations with persons under the age of 18.”

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