Congratulations Zimbabwe for making your children a priority and for showing the world that you care about the future of your country.
The Constitutional Court on Wednesday outlawed child marriages sighting that section 22 (1) of the Marriage Act was inconsistent with section 78 (1) of the Constitution which sets 18 years as the minimum age of marriage in Zimbabwe. It clearly means that marriage of young persons below the age of 18 is illegal.
However, a friend on social media posed a question that, does it also mean that sex with a person below the age of 18 carries the same gravity and punishment if committed? I responded to her saying that I hope that the Act of Parliament that will be enacted to govern this particular child marriage issue will make it equally the same and make it an offence for someone to indulge in sex with a minor below the age of 18.
I always want to bring the nexus between women and girls issues with development. Last year the world signed to the new global agenda — the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). An SDG is defined as, “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
As the present day adults and leaders, we have broken the rules of SDGs in many ways. When we engage in such sexual relationships with minors, we are harming the future lives of the next generation. We are taking away their ability to look after themselves well. When we fulfill our sexual pleasures with children below the age of 18, we are taking their ability to continue with their education. Sometimes we rob them of their lives as there is high maternal mortality among young women. We also take away their rights to wellbeing as many young women suffer fistula and are shunned in their social and economic lives.
We take away their ability to fend for themselves and a chance at a good life as they become premature parents and unable to continue with their education or livelihoods. We rob them of the opportunities to participate and input into the development of their communities as often young mothers are not educated enough to be empowered to meaningfully contribute to their communities even in development opportunities. A country ultimately robs itself of the opportunity to tap into this generation which has a potential to do things better and come up with new inventions. It is great that Zimbabwe has awakened to the realisation that young lives matter!
In one of my previous articles, I clearly stated my expectations for the delivery of the constitutional rights, especially the issue of child marriages when I wrote; “The hope that should be kept is that of at least the provisions of the Constitution to become a reality for the ordinary Zimbabwean. The Constitution was signed in 2013, what seems to lack is the implementation and creation of the laws that reduce it to a reality for the rest of the Zimbabweans. The Constitution is clear about governance and accountability issues especially on public resources. If that happened, no one should then suffer in Zimbabwe because we have enough minerals and resources to keep us afloat and to share with the world. Girls continue being married young. There is even a debate on whether the provisions of the Constitution of the age of majority being 18 directly translates to mean that if anybody married a girl below the age of 18, it is a crime. We cannot afford to have such mediocrity and lack of care for the next generation. Zimbabweans are waiting eagerly for the benefits of the Constitution, which they worked for. The police are therefore, unable to deal with child marriage issues because no law specifically empowers them to deal with the issue.”
I do believe it is through such efforts, when we speak out and make our constitutional expectations clear, that our voices are heard by our leaders and change such as this is effected. I do also believe that when brave women stand up for their rights, like what Loveness Mudzuri and Ruvimbo Tsopodzo did, life becomes more enjoyable and lives of women improve. I know that when we build from the foundations of those who have gone before us, who fought for this issue way before it was adopted as an agenda issue years before we came on the scene, that development of our communities is ensured.
I know that when organisations such as Tag a Life International Trust, other civic organisations and government come together, development is imminent.
Nyaradzo “Nyari” Mashayamombe is the founder and executive director of Tag a Life International Trust, a girl child rights organisation. She is a development consultant, entrepreneur and musician. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org