Chiefs join fight to end child marriage

The chiefs called for the speedy alignment of the law to the new constitution, arguing that failure to do so would cause confusion about the correct age for an individual to be identified as a child.

Chief Nenguwo said chiefs should promote peace within their communities
Chief Nenguwo said chiefs should promote peace within their communities

According to the constitution, a child is any individual aged 18 and below. “The law states that a child of 16 can consent to sex and there is need to align the law to the constitution to avoid confusion. Anyone who engages in any sexual act with a child below the age of 18 should be prosecuted,” said Chief Chinyerere.

Speaking at a meeting for chiefs in Marondera organised by the Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development under the theme “Ending Child Marriages: 18+ Campaign”, the majority of chiefs from the province agreed that there was need for traditional leaders to promote good cultural values that protect children.

Chief Nenguwo said it was the role of traditional leaders to ensure that harmful cultural practices, such as child pledging, were not practiced in their communities. “We should up community watchdogs to ensure that there is peace and harmony for the development and betterment of citizens,” he said.

Chief Nyoka from Chivhu said harmful cultural practices such as appeasing the dead through child pledging should be done away with forthwith. “These practices infringe on the well-being and development of our children who are the future leaders,” said Chief Chivese.

Loice Mwedziwendira, the Mashonaland East reproductive health focal person in the health ministry, said the majority of neo-natal deaths in the area were of babies born to mothers who got pregnant under the age of 16.

Include men and boys

"Mashonaland East recorded 25,423 ante-natal bookings since January to June 2014. Of these 763 were of girls under the age of 16 while 13,513 were made by those between 16 and 24," said Mwedziwendira.

Chenai Murandu, an officer from the department of social services and child welfare, said in most communities where children were married off early, factors such as poverty, certain religious and cultural practices and failure to fully implement the law fuelled the practice.

"Our interventions should be inclusive of men and boys so that they appreciate the disadvantages of marrying very young girls," said Murandu, adding that failure to integrate and educate males could jeopardise the intended outcome.

Virginia Muwanigwa, chairperson of the Women's Coalition and director of the Humanitarian Information Facilitation Centre, said society should uphold the provisions of the constitution as the supreme law of the land recognises that every citizen has rights.

Common practice

"Everyone, regardless of their age, circumstances, culture and race, are important according to the constitution," said Muwanigwa, adding that citizens should respect each other's rights for the development of the nation.

Chiefs at the meeting.
Chiefs at the meeting.

The “Ending Child Marriages: 18+ Campaign”, is an initiative spearheaded by the women’s affairs ministry with the aim of reducing early and child marriages in Zimbabwe.

In its 2011 report entitled “Married too soon: Child marriage in Zimbabwe”, the Research and Advocacy Unit reported that child marriage was a common practice and 21% of children (mostly girls) are married before the age of 18.

The Girl Child Network (GCN), a civil society organisation whose mission is to shelter, educate, and empower female victims, estimates that 8,000 girls have been forced into early marriages or held as sex slaves in Zimbabwe since 2008.

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