African Union (AU) Goodwill Ambassador on Ending Child Marriage in Africa, Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, has said having 15 million girls in child marriages is a global crisis that calls for more voices and good leadership.
By Phyllis Mbanje
Gumbonzvanda said it was not enough to have “baskets” of laws that were not being implemented.
“These girls are not a mere statistic and we should uphold the dictates of the Constitution to protect them,” she said.
Speaking at the launch of the Zimbabwean AU Campaign to End Child Marriage, Gumbonzvanda stated that currently, of every three or four girls, one was in a child marriage and this was robbing them of the opportunities to develop fully.
She castigated men who took in girl brides in the guise of culture.
“We should not hide behind culture and faith when a crime has been committed,” Gumbonzvanda said.
She said poverty was one of the drivers of child marriages as parents married off their daughters early.
According to the country’s Multiple Indicator Monitoring Survey (MIMS), Zimbabwe, with a prevalence rate of over 30%, is among African countries with high figures on child marriages.
During a recent address to child parliamentarians, President Robert Mugabe said child marriage caused irreparable damage to girls and denied them the right to personal development and to education.
Various researches have pointed to harmful cultural practices as one of the drivers of child marriages and chiefs at various platforms have been called on to support all initiatives to halt the practice.
Recently, the 40-member Zimbabwe National Council of Chiefs pledged its commitment to the ongoing 18+ Ending Child Marriages Campaign and stated that it would take the lead role in interventions aimed at ending early marriages.
In Zimbabwe, the Customary Marriages Act, which has no minimum age, has seen many parents and guardians consenting to marriage of their children, seemingly condoning child marriages, with some girls getting married as young as 12 years old.
Under the Marriage Act, girls under 16 can marry, while the same Act says boys can only marry at 18.
Girls between the ages of 16 and 18 can get married with the consent of their parents or guardians or, if a guardian refuses consent, with the consent of a High Court judge (Section 20).
Meanwhile, a report released by the Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU) on marriage laws and the mandated age of consent in Sadc revealed that most countries with a higher prevalence of child marriages, had conflicting laws.
Malawi is one of the countries with a very high rate of child marriages of 49,9% and followed close behind by Mozambique with 48,2%.