Child marriages: Chiefs add severe civil penalties Chief Fortune Charumbira

Precious Manomano and Zvamaida Murwira

Traditional leaders are stepping up the pressure against child marriages by imposing stiffer customary civil penalties against offenders, who still face criminal charges and potential jail sentences, as chiefs say such marriages are not only unlawful but are against the traditional values they are sworn to uphold.

In Mashonaland Central, some traditional leaders have started imposing penalties of two beasts and two goats against offenders in their customary courts and believe this is starting to bear fruit with fewer of the illegal marriages now being arranged.

In an interview, Chiefs Council president Fortune Charumbira said as traditional leaders, they will be playing an integral role given that most of these marriages took place within customary communities.

“As traditional leaders we condemn in the strongest terms any child marriage. The practice is not just unlawful in terms of the laws of the country but is not consistent with our traditional norms and values which we superintend. 

“As custodians of traditional values, we have to stamp our authority by imposing heavy fines to show how society frowns at the practice,” said Chief Charumbira.

His remarks come as traditional leaders in Bindura are working together in fighting child marriages through imposing stiffer penalties.

In an interview Chief Masembura (Mr Ishmael Kagande) said it was painful to see a normal man marrying an underage girl. He is working with village heads in his area to ensure that sexual abuse of young girls is totally eliminated.

“I do not tolerate such nonsense. How can a real normal man enter into a relationship with a young girl, disturbing her life and rights as well.

“In my jurisdiction here in Masembura, you will compensate with two beasts and two goats. Statistics have indicated that this penalty has totally eliminated this practice and I will continue doing this to the heartless people who do not value the girl child,” said Chief Masembura.

Chief Masembura argued that society should value young girls and give them a chance to grow for the betterment of the nation.

In many communities where child marriages are common, girls are not valued as much as boys and they are widely perceived as a liability by their families.

In Parliament this week, legislators were keen to expedite the passage of the Guardianship of Minors Amendment Bill that, as a procedural issue bringing the Act into line with the Constitution which already bars people under 18 from marrying, removes the right of parents to consent to any  marriage.

Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi yesterday took the Bill through the second reading in the National Assembly where he appealed to legislators to pass the proposed law.

The Bill seeks to amend the Guardianship of Minors Act and among a number of measures will remove references to parents consenting to marriages of minor children. 

When people could marry at 16 the law demanded that parents consented to the marriage of children under 18, but that need was misread as power to arrange such a marriage.

Minister Ziyambi said it was critical to pass the Bill to ensure the protection of children against early marriages.

The issue of child marriages has come under the spotlight following the death of 14-year-old Anna Machaya at a Johanne Marange Apostolic Sect shrine in Marange recently. 

Hatirarame Momberume (26) has now been arrested for engaging in sexual acts with a child under the age of consent while the late Anna’s parents, Edmore Machaya and Shy Mabika, are facing obstruction of justice charges for their attempts to try and misrepresent that the dead girl was her 22-year-old cousin Memory, who police have found to be alive.

The parents might face further charges as they are alleged to have pledged their nine-year-old daughter to Momberume.

Zimbabweans, when drafting and approving their Constitution decided that everyone had to wait until they were an adult before they were mature enough to decide who they wanted to marry.

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