Women’s Affairs, Gender, Community Small and Medium Enterprise Development Committee Chairperson, Hon. Chido Madiwa (Mutasa North, ZANU PF) has implored Parliament to enact laws that assist in the eradication of child marriages. Hon. Madiwa said this during a virtual meeting organised by SAPST between MPs, Civil Society Organisations and Churches. Hon. Madiwa maintained that mainstreaming of all legal frameworks that safeguard children should be prioritised by Parliament. She noted that despite global statistics showing that there has been a downward trajectory in early child marriages, progress in curbing it has been rather slow. In addition, the Mutasa North legislator urged civil society organisations to collaborate with religious leaders and traditional leaders to reach the grassroots where child marriages are prevalent.
The virtual meeting was attended by organisations that include the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, World Vision, Joint Hands Welfare Organisation, Orphans Friend and Community Development Trust, Trinity Project, ZNCWC, FAWEZI and Youth Alive Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe Council of Churches, Reverend Thelma Moyo condemned religious leaders practicing child marriages, urging them to take the lead in upholding the rights of children. Speaking at the same occasion, SAPST Legal Specialist, Vivian Mashavave intimated that ending child marriages in Zimbabwe required structural, institutional, and individual strategies to tackle the factors fuelling child marriages. He advised that there is need for the criminalisation and mandatory sentencing of child marriage perpetrators. Raising awareness and improved access to education and life skills in communities are other ways of doing away with child marriages.
Hon. Innocent Gonese took the discussion further to Parliament’s Question and Answer session, probing Women’s Affairs Minister Dr Sthembiso Nyoni on Government’s policy measures and action plans regarding ending child marriages. Hon. Nyoni stated that the Ministry had launched the National Action Plan Against Child Marriages in 2019 but admitted that the cascading downwards of the action plan to provincial levels has not completely solved the challenge of child marriages.
In a separate meeting, the Portfolio Committee on Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare also held a virtual meeting with the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare recently to discuss ways of curbing child marriages. The Ministry Secretary, Mr Masanga notified the Committee that efforts including increased awareness campaigns on the negative effects of child abuse and enhancing the Ministry’s capacity to identify cases of child abuse and exploitation in communities were being made to eliminate child marriages.
Child marriages remain a problem in Zimbabwe and other countries in the region. Factors that lead to child marriages include poverty; gender inequity; tradition; insecurity, especially in times of conflict, limited education, and inadequate legal frameworks. According to the SADC Model Law on Ending Child Marriages, in at least five countries in the SADC, almost 40% of children are married before they are 18 years of age.