PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe yesterday expressed disgust at the upsurge of child marriages in the country, but failed to comment on controversy surrounding utterances by Prosecutor General Johannes Tomana over girls’ age of consent to sex and marriage.
By Our Staff
Tomana last week received widespread rebuke from gender and human rights defenders for his sentiments on the age at which children can consent to sex. He however claimed he had been misquoted.
Addressing the official opening of the 23rd session of the Children’s Parliament in Harare, Mugabe instead chose to attack non-governmental organisations for allegedly pushing foreign agendas.
“We should defend ourselves against those who want to intervene into our affairs through clandestine methods using non-governmental organisations which pretend they are working for our future,” he said.
Mugabe said there were worrying statistics of early child marriages, adding it was wrong to judge the maturity of a girl child by the development of their breasts.
He said statistics indicated that one in four women aged 20 to 24 years were married while still children.
“Our country’s situation is equally worse as the multi indicator cluster survey reports that 24% girls between 15 to 19 years are currently married or in union, while only 1,7% boys in the same age are married or in union. I do not know who takes the girls — some go into polygamy while others are just given babies and abandoned,” Mugabe said.
He, however, expressed the need to align the country’s marriage laws with the new Constitution which stipulated the age of consent was 18 years.
Mugabe urged members of the Vapostori sects to take their children to school and get them treated at health institutions.
Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa said the new Constitution adequately protected children, but said there was need to urgently align marriage laws to ensure children were protected from early child marriages and sexual abuse.
Child President, Samuel Nya-renda said sub-Saharan Africa was worst hit by early child marriages with 40% of marriages being of girls below 14 years.
“In Zimbabwe, marriage statistics indicate Mashonaland Central has 50% of children marrying before adulthood, followed by Mashonaland West with 42% and Masvingo with 39%. It is clear and well-documented that in areas where children marry, literacy rates are very low and it is a threat to Zimbabwe’s 98% literacy levels,” Nyarenda said.
Some of the areas said to highly practise early child marriages were Chikombedzi, Uzumba, Mudzi, Hwange, Mwenezi and Ngundu.
This year’s theme was, 25 years after the adoption of the African Children’s charter: Accelerating our collective efforts to end child marriage in Africa.