Abigail Mawonde and Tafadzwa Ndlovu Herald Reporters
Zimbabwe is one of the 40 countries in the world with an unacceptably high rate of child marriages where girls enter into marriage before they turned 18 years, the United Nations Children Fund report has revealed.
UNICEF said according to the 2014 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, 32,8 percent of women aged between 20 and 49 reported that they were married before they were 18 while 24,5 percent of girls between 15 and 19 years are currently married.
UNICEF blamed delays in realigning the country’s customary law and the marriage Act on the legal age of majority and the age of sexual consent for girls as outlined in the Constitution.
UNICEF Representative, Mr Reza Hossani urged Government to intervene.
“Zimbabwe’s Constitution says that ‘no person may be compelled to enter marriage against their own will’, and calls on the state to ensure that no girls are pledged into marriage. Yet over 32 percent of girls in Zimbabwe are married before their 18th birthday,” he said.
“We call upon the Government to urgently review existing laws and policies to ensure that they are in line with the Constitution.”
Mr Hossani said risks of child marriages involved death of either the mother, the infant or both as the mother’s body will not yet be ready for child birth.
The statistics came as the country joined the rest of the world on Tuesday in commemorating the Day of the African Child with child activists urging the Government to back its commitment to end child marriages with effective policies.
The commemorations were held under the theme: “25 years after the Adoption of the African Children’s Charter: Accelerating our Collective Efforts to End Child Marriage in Africa.”
Plan International spokesperson Ms Angela Machonesa said child marriages remained a huge problem in the country and fine words must be matched by sound policies and funding.
She expressed concern that the prevalence rate of child marriage was highest among girls with little or no formal education and among households with the lowest income levels.
“The longer a girl stays in school the less likely she is to be married before 18 and have children during her teenage years,” said Ms Machonesa.
“Our Government must increase resource allocation to education in order to secure and strengthen necessary conditions for good quality education. Creation of safe schooling environment free from abuse and violence yet with adequate and proper access to hygiene and sanitation for girls is mandatory.”
In a statement, Justice for Children called upon all stakeholders to respect, protect and promote the rights of children by aligning some laws to the new Constitution.
“Every child under the age of 18 years has the right to equal treatment before the law including the right to be heard. They have the right to education, health care services, nutrition and shelter as well as the right to be protected from economic and sexual exploitation from child labour, maltreatment, neglect or any form of abuse,” read part of the statement
“We call upon the Parliament of Zimbabwe to consider aligning laws such as the Children’s Act, Births and Deaths registration Act, Citizenship of Zimbabwe Act, Marriage Act, Customary marriages Act, Education Act and Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act with the rights contained in the constitution of Zimbabwe.”
They also called for the implementation of child protection laws and allocation of sufficient resources to Government institutions dealing with children around the country.
Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development Acting Minister Sithembiso Nyoni said there was need for a shift from focusing only on the girl child to focusing on the boy child.
“Commemorating the Day of the African Child cannot be complete without issues to do with the girl child, but now we need to also divert our attention to the boy child because they are the perpetrators.
“If we target the victims alone then we won’t find solutions to rape or abuse but rather also engage the perpetrators which are the boys,” she said.
“Child marriages are most common in church and traditional practices hence we should continue engaging our traditional leaders because they are at the grassroots where it is prevalent.”