ZIMBABWE Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) commends the government for the enactment of the Marriages Act No.1 of 2022, which has also effectively criminalised child marriages amongst some of its key provisions.
Recently passed into law, the Marriages Act is commendable because it unequivocally abolishes and criminalises child marriages and will hopefully if implemented, protect children particularly girls, who over the years have borne the brunt of the unlawful and despicable
Enactment of the Marriage Act is also laudable because it finally aligns the marriage laws of the country to a large extent with the Constitution and Zimbabwe’s obligations under international law. ZLHR hopes that the Marriages Act will be interpreted in a manner that
guarantees the rights of women.
Although the enactment of this crucial law is laudable, there is significant work which remains to be done in the fight against the scourge of child marriages.
In order to fully eradicate the scourge of child marriages from our society, the other two arms of government – the executive and judiciary need to commit to the effective enforcement of the law, which now criminalises child marriages as well as to enhance access to
justice for children who may need protection of the courts.
Such enforcement action entails the investigation and prosecution of all perpetrators of the unlawful practice without fear or favour.
Moreover, the courts should pro-actively invoke and apply the provisions of the Marriages Act in order to bring an end to the harmful practice of child marriages. Government should also implement nationwide programmes which are designed to raise awareness on the
prohibition and criminalisation of child marriages.
It is also important for traditional leaders, such as chiefs and headmen to use their significant influence in their communities to ensure that the practice of child marriages is effectively eradicated.
Child marriages have proliferated in Zimbabwe partly because of traditional beliefs and customs which endorse the practice. The practice of such an abominable practice by some religious sectors – especially the apostolic sect has not helped. However, the supreme law
of the country, the 2013 Constitution, made it very clear that only
those aged 18 or above could marry.
Now the Marriages Act, also criminalises this deplorable practice. As such, all practices as
influenced by culture and even religious beliefs which are inconsistent with the Constitution are of no effect and cannot stand.
Since the Marriages Act now criminalise child marriages, all traditional practices, cultures, religious beliefs and practice which enable and facilitate child marriages are therefore unlawful.
ZLHR reminds traditional leaders that they have a constitutional obligation to act in accordance with the Constitution and the laws of Zimbabwe, in terms of section 281(1)(a) the Constitution. Traditional leaders also have an obligation to act in accordance with an Act of Parliament, such as the Marriages Act, in terms of section 282(1)(d) of the Constitution. ZLHR also wishes to advise all apostolic sect leaders that have been enabling child marriages that their days are numbered as the long arm of the law will catch up with them.
ZLHR urges the public and community leaders, such as religious leaders, to play their part towards eradicating the despicable and unlawful practice of child marriages. The effective eradication of this illegal practice requires all citizens to spread awareness on the
prohibition of child marriages, so that societal norms and views align with the laws prohibiting child marriages. The eradication of child marriages can only be achieved if the societal norms align with the legal prohibition of the pervasive practice.
Despite the significant work that still needs to be done towards eradicating child marriages, ZLHR applauds government for the concrete steps it has taken to date towards the eradication of the much-loathed practice by just criminalising this abomination.
ZLHR also recognises that the Constitutional Court had already acted to uphold the fundamental rights of children by effectively prohibiting child marriages in the landmark case of Mudzuru and Anor v Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs N.O. & Ors
(Constitutional Application 79 of 2014, CC 12 of 2015) (2016) ZWCC 12
(20 January 2016).
ZLHR is also encouraged that government accepted and is now implementing the recommendations of United Nations Member States, concerning the eradication of child marriages, that have been passed during the successive reviews of Zimbabwe at the Human Rights Council led Universal Periodic Review Mechanism (UPRM), which are held in
Geneva. At the most recent UPRM review held in November 2021 and January 2022, UN Member States recommended that Zimbabwe should enact laws which prohibit and criminalise child marriages, in line with the country’s obligations under international law. The Zimbabwean government accepted the recommendations and implemented them by
enacting the Marriages Act, which now prohibits and criminalises the harmful practice.
In recognition of the coming into force of the Marriages Act, ZLHR;
• Commends Zimbabwean authorities for taking concrete steps towards the eradication of child marriages by enacting the Marriages Act;
• Applauds government for accepting and implementing the UPR recommendations made at the Third Cycle review on the eradication of child marriages in record time;
• Urges government to implement programmes designed to raise awareness
on the prohibition of child marriages and prosecute all perpetrators of the harmful practice;
• Urges the public and traditional leaders to play their part in aligning societal norms with the laws which prohibit child marriages;
• Reminds traditional leaders of their constitutional obligation to uphold and enforce the laws of the country, which prohibit child marriages;
• Reminds religious leaders of the supremacy of the Constitution and their role of respecting all laws of the country especially those that protect vulnerable members of the society such as children.