By Daniel Chigudu
Child marriage victim Ruvimbo Tsopodzi says she feels let down by Parliament in her quest to help end cases of child marriages in the country.
According to UNFPA about 14.2 million girls are married off as children every year worldwide and in Zimbabwe it is estimated that 31 percent of girls are married before they reach 18 years.
Early marriages not only deprive girls of education and opportunities but increase the risk of death or serious childbirth injuries if they have babies before their bodies are ready.
Tsopodzi together with Loveness Mudzuru had to engage the Constitutional Court earlier in the year to help ban child marriages and set 18 years as the legal age of consent.
Despite applauding the two child marriage victims, Parliament of Zimbabwe has delayed in coming up with laws that would complement the ConCourt judgement and Tsopodzi says she is disappointed as young girls are still being married off and being impregnated.
“I am heavily disappointed because young girls are still being married and still being impregnated and if you report the police are saying there is nothing they can do since there is no law against that so it’s a slap in the face of the judgement.
“I have tried to urge a number of Ministers to come up with the laws but all they say is that they are pushing as much as they can, but its disappointing especially with the efforts that have been put and are still being put by various individuals and organisations to protect children from early marriages,” said Tsopodzi in an interview.
More African countries are now slowly warming up to the idea of banning child marriages, and just recently Tanzanian Parliament in June this year enacted laws that make it illegal for anyone to marry children and even impregnating teenagers and has imposed a 30 year prison sentence for perpetrators.
A 2015/16 survey conducted by the Tanzania Bureau of Statistics says about 21 percent of girls aged 15 to 19 have given birth.
Gambia has also made headways by imposing a 20 year jail term for anyone who marries a girl aged below 18 and the punishment also extends to parents and people who would have performed the marrying ceremonies. In the Gambia about 46 percent of girls get married before they are 18.
UNFPA is on record saying between 2011 and 2020 about 140 million girls will be child brides worldwide, while 50 million of them will be under 15 years.
Nigeria is home to the largest number of child brides in Africa, with 23 million girls and women who were married in childhood. Chad and Central African Republic are also among the countries with the highest rates of child marriage today.
Often, the reason families marry off children is out of financial desperation although there are other reasons that vary from cultural and religious beliefs, among many others.
However in Zimbabwe people like Harare West legislator Jessie Majome, Roots Zimbabwe director Beatrice Savadye and organizations such as RAU, Camfed, CPSZ, ZWLA, Plan International and ZLHR want to see government taking more concerted action to mitigate its effects and where possible stamp it out altogether by banning marriage before 18.
These campaigners have reportedly drafted a proposed Bill which seeks to remove places in the country’s laws that allow child marriages and they are only waiting to get an appointment with Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa who is also the Minister of Justice so they can submit their proposed Bill, they however have been waiting since May 2015.
Efforts to get a comment from the Minister of Women Affairs Nyasha Chikwinya were fruitless as she was said to be attending meetings and questions sent to her email were not answered.
By Daniel Chigudu