Public hearing on "Marriage Bill" spotlights child marriages

Despite men and women having equal status as defined in Zimbabwe’s constitution, violence against women and harmful practices are still prevalent within the context of marriage. A new Marriages Bill has been proposed to align current marriage laws with the Constitution of Zimbabwe and international laws; outlaw child marriages and combine the two current marriages acts (Marriage Act and Customary Marriages Act) into one for easier reference.

Some of the key provisions in the current constitution state that:  the pledging of children in child marriage is banned; a person who has reached the age 18 has the right to form a family and not be compelled into marriage against their free will and women and men have equal status and equal opportunities in all spheres of society.

Zimbabwe has one of the highest prevalence rates of child marriage in Africa with one in three girls being married of before the age of 18 (UN, 2018).  The Constitutional Court  in 2016  ruled that marriages of girls  below  the age of 18 are  unconstitutional and illegal, however the current Marriage Act recognises the union of a girl who is 16 years old. Child marriages remain prevalent in the country within the context of culture, religion and poverty especially in the rural areas.

“We have seen young people in Plumtree being pledged to traders who work in South Africa and Botswana in child marriages. Something needs to be done.”- Kuda* 23 years

UNDP has been working collaboratively with UNWOMEN and UNICEF under the EU-sponsored Spotlight Initiative to eliminate violence against women and girls to sensitise and improve the understanding of the Marriages Bill among parliamentarians, traditional chiefs and civil society.  The proposed Marriages Bill is key within Spotlight Initiative as it addresses factors which perpetuate Sexual Gender Based Violence (SGBV) and Harmful Practices (HP).

A total of 300 Parliamentarians took part in the Marriages Bill workshops led by UNDP which preceded the national public hearings held by Parliament from the 26th to the 30th of August 2019 in Zimbabwe’s 10 provinces. This was a significant process in citizen engagement as it was the first time that public hearings on law making were taken to the rural areas. With enhanced knowledge of the proposed bill, the community is being empowered to demand for accountability and protect their rights.

“ As a youth advocate, I came[to the Public Hearings] to share the issues affecting young people on the ground and hear the views being shared as well. This Bill will affect me when I decide to get married.”- Noma*

Child marriages remained a significant topic of discussion in the different districts particularly as the age of consent for sex remains at 16.

“If my child can have sex at 16 and falls pregnant, why shouldn’t she be allowed to get married? Where am I supposed to find the funds to take care of another person? Let her go to her husband’s house.” – Mr Ndlovu*

UNDP attended the hearings in Manicaland and Matabeleland South supporting Parliaments efforts to engage citizens on the Marriages Bill. Within these two provinces approximately 1000 citizens  views were heard. These views will be taken into consideration by Parliamentarians before they make their final decision as to whether this  proposal should be made into a law.