Zimbabwe is in the process of amending marriage laws so that they can be aligned to the 2013 Constitution. This process is being spearheaded by the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs. As Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association, we have been advocating for citizen participation in democratic processes, which includes inputting on new laws and policies and attending other political dialogue.
Laws in Zimbabwe are made through the Legislature which consists of the Parliament and the President. The Parliament is made up of two chambers being the Cabinet and the National Assembly. For a law to be made by the Legislature it must pass through both houses of the Parliament. The final stage is the Presidential assent, where the President can either accept or reject the new or amended law.
As it stands, the Marriages Bill is not yet in force in Zimbabwe, which means that it is not yet law. The current laws on marriages are still functional.
According to Section 131 of the Constitution, the Bill has to become “An Act of Parliament” after, being presented in and passed by both Houses of Parliament; and assented to and signed by the President.
What has been done?
The Bill starts off as a list of principles which are submitted to the specialised committee of the Cabinet that vets proposals for Bills and draft Bills. They are known as the Cabinet Committee on Legislation (CCL). Once the Bill has been accepted by this Committee, it will be sent for publishing in the Government Gazette.
The Marriages Bill passed this process and on the 19th of July 2019, it was officially published despite other unofficial copies already having been in circulation.
The importance of this publication is to formally introduce the proposed law to the people, raise awareness of the existence of a new law and to prepare the populous for the public consultative meetings. After gazetting, fourteen days must lapse before this same Bill can be formally read in Parliament as the ‘First Reading.’
Within this same fourteen day period, the Bill is referred to the relevant Parliamentary Portfolio Committee (PPC) so as to conduct public hearings with citizens.
The Parliament announced that public consultative meetings would be conducted across the country’s different provinces from August 26-30, 2019. A schedule was circulated on various platforms, showing the date, time and venue at which these committees would be holding the hearings.
Four portfolio committees conducted these meetings. These public hearings are important in gaining public perspective and input, determining the relevance of the proposed law and deciphering areas of amendment and improvement from both the general public and interest groups.
Beyond the consultative hearings, citizens were also invited to make written submissions to the Parliament through its offices and via e-mail. The last day for submission was also August 30, 2019.
The “First reading” is the formal introduction of the Bill before the House and no Parliamentary debate takes place at this stage. On August 29 the Marriages Bill was read and referred to the Parliamentary Legal Committee (PLC).
This PLC is responsible for determining the constitutionality of a Bill which essentially means that they are vetting the Marriages Bill so as to establish whether it conforms to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
The PLC has to compile a report of whether in its opinion, if the Bill is enacted, it would be in contravention of the Bill of Rights or any other provision of the Constitution and this report is presented to the House for adoption.
On the day the report is presented, the Minister responsible for the Bill may, if she or he agrees with the report, withdraw the Bill entirely, or withdraw it and introduce another Bill containing the changes requested by the PLC to bring the Bill into full constitutional conformity.
Where are we now?
Currently, these four committees have been deliberating on the findings of the consultative meetings.
The Parliament is scheduled to re-open for its second session of its 9th schedule on October 1, 2019.
The President is set to introduce the new legislative agenda and the Marriages Bill remains a pending issue for deliberation for Parliament.