Daniel Nemukuyu Investigations and Special Reports Editor
THE draft Marriages Amendment Bill, 2017, approved by Cabinet last week, criminalises child marriages and proposes a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison for anyone who permits, aids or coerces a minor into marriage.
Such minors are also protected against civil unions or cohabiting.
The draft Bill, in line with the Constitution, sets 18 years as the minimum age for any form of marriage or union.
Religious leaders, relatives and parents who marry off children under 18 years of age, will be liable to prosecution with a possible penalty of up to five years in jail or a fine not exceeding Level 10.
Part of the Bill reads: “ (1) No person under the age of 18 years may contract a marriage or enter into an unregistered customary law marriage or a civil partnership.
“(2) For the avoidance of any doubt, child marriages are prohibited and under no circumstance shall any person contract, solemnise, promote, permit, allow or coerce or aid or abet the contracting, solemnising, promotion, permitting, allowing or coercion of the marriage, unregistered customary law marriage, civil partnership, pledging, promise in marriage or betrothal of a child.
“(3) Any person, other than the child concerned, who contravenes subsection (2), shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding Level 10 or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years or to both such fine and such imprisonment.”
A parent or a person in loco parentis found guilty of the offence risks getting the maximum penalty.
“It shall be an aggravating factor in an offence referred to in subsection (3) that the contravention was by a parent or a person in loco parentis to the child concerned,” reads the draft Bill.
The Marriages Act will be repealed and replaced with one consolidated Marriages Amendment Bill, which is a cocktail of civil and political liberties being undertaken by President Mnangagwa under the Second Republic.
South Africa-based Zimbabwean lawyer Mrs Tambudzai Gonese-Manjonjo said criminalisation of child marriages was now long overdue.
“It was long overdue considering that the child marriage case was decided in 2016 by the Constitutional Court.
“The model law was also crafted
the same year. The existence of the judgment without legislative backing caused a lot of confusion. People generally knew that the court said the minimum age of marriage is 18 but there were no consequences for those who married or married off children,” she said.
Mrs Gonese-Manjonjo said the sentence was reasonable.
“The prescribed sentence is reasonable for now but it remains to be seen how effective it will be after implementation,” said Mrs Gonese-Manjonjo.
Another lawyer Ms Jacqueline Sande hailed the development.
“It is a welcome move. Children are not able to make decisions such as whether or not to marry.
“This protects the rights of young girl against abuse. At times parents are tempted to marry the child off to a rich old man, hence a deterrent sentence of five years in prison will go a long way in curbing child marriages,” said Ms Sande.