The signing into law of the Marriages Act that prohibits the marriage of anyone under 18 is a positive step towards ending child marriages in Zimbabwe, UN agencies have said.
However more needs to be done to change societal perceptions on the role of women, something law does not provide, UNICEF representative Tajudeen Oyewale said.
One woman out of every three aged 20 to 40 years were married before they reached 18 years in Zimbabwe.
“UNICEF applauds the recent adoption of legislation in Zimbabwe and the constitutional judgement confirming that no child under the age of 18 is legally allowed to marry. While legislation is important we all know it is not enough. We need behavioral change in communities and throughout society,”UNICEF representative Tajudeen Oyewale said.
About 5% of girls are married before they reach their 15th birthday in Zimbabwe.
There have renewed calls for more action against the social cancer, robbing girls of a decent childhood as the world commemorates, The International Day of The African Child.
“The practice of child marriage remains unfortunately widespread,” Oyewale said.
The International Day of the African Child commemorates the 16 June 1976 student uprising in Soweto, South Africa. The demonstration was led by the African students who were against apartheid-inspired education.
Despite efforts by child rights campaigners to stem this harmful practice, child marriages have continued unabated.
This year’s theme of the International Day of The African Child is, eliminating Harmful Practices Affecting Children.
According to the Human Rights Watch, Harmful practices are often rooted in discriminatory traditional, economic, religious, and legal conditions, and harmful societal views on the role of girls and women.
They include child marriage, which continues to be very prevalent across sub-Saharan Africa.
Eighteen of the 20 countries with the world’s highest child marriage rates are in sub-Saharan Africa. Most have very high rates of teenage pregnancy and high percentages of girls out of secondary school.
Fatou Aminata Lo, UN Women representative said the scourge of child marriages would only end if societal perceptions about women change.
She applauded the signing into law of the Marriages Act by President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
“We owe it to the girls of this country to enforce this law so that they can be seen for what they are. Girls not brides. Girls not commodities,” Aminata Lo said.
While there is considerable progress at law, Esther Muia, UNFPA Representative warned that teens girls were at risk of sexually transmitted diseases.
Out of 1000 girls, 115 below the age of 18 are likely to get pregnant, Muia said.
“The covid pandemic unearthed things that we had not seen. Zimbabwe has a high teen pregnancy rate. Out of 1000 girls, there are 115 below the age of 18 who are getting pregnant. This is unacceptable. Early marriage is totally unacceptable,” she said.
“A pregnancy is evidence of unprotected sex. Infections come with unprotected sex. In Zimbabwe, the new cases of HIV, in the age group of 15 to 19 is the highest. From 15-24 it doubles. At 15-19, girls are six times more than the boys in the same age group. Girls are three times more infected than the boys,” Muia added.