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Fighting early child marriages in Zimbabwe

Though being illegal, polygamy is allowed under a customary law

05.03.2015
Fighting early child marriages in Zimbabwe

By John Cassim

HARARE 

In Seke, a rural community some 45km southeast of capital Harare, dozens of men and women came together to discuss the impact of early child marriage.

"Most girls who are being married early are doing so because their parents are poor and are looking for money," Dapson Muza, 66, told the Anadolu Agency.

Tandiwe Kaseke, a 49-year-old widow from Chamboko village in Seke, agreed.

"In my village, a 14-year-old girl was forced into marriage by her parents due to poverty," she told AA.

"Now she is in hospital due to pregnancy complications," Kaseke lamented.

No studies have yet been conducted on the number of child marriages in Zimbabwe, but the UN estimates that 31 percent of the country's girls tie the knot at an early age.

Beatrice Savadye, director of ROOTS, a local NGO that helped organize the discussion, admitted that many men still shy away from discussing the issue of early marriage.

"It is difficult to convince men to attend such events as they feel the fight is taking away their rights," she told AA.

"But I am happy that at least 100 men – and several women – attended," said Savadye. "The few men who attended will hopefully persuade their colleagues to change."

Stanley Chimanikire, the traditional leader of Seke who sponsored the event, cited legal difficulties that sometimes accompany early marriage.

Zimbabwe's 2013 constitution allows for consensual marriage between people 18 years old and above.

Under the Marriage Act, the legal minimum marriage age for boys is 18, while for girls it is 16.

A 16-year-old girl can marry, provided there are witnesses and a license from the Justice Ministry. The consent of her parents is not required.

Under the law, a man shall have one wife and it is illegal to marry a second whilst the first marriage is still valid.

Marriages are officiated by marriage officers or in a court of law.

The Customary Marriages Act, however, does not set a minimum marriage age for girls.

Girls under 16 can marry with the consent of their parents or guardians, while boys cannot marry before reaching 18.

The customary law allows polygamy.

Tradition allows Zimbabwean men to enter into polygamous marriages – sometimes with women as young as 15 years old.

Chief Seke pledged to fight for the amendment of the country's marriage laws.

"We need to tell the people who make the laws to synchronize them and come up with something which is right," he told AA.

"If the law exonerates a man who sleeps with a young girl consensually, this is against the spirit of our culture. We teach our children to abstain [from sex] until they are adults," said Chief Seke.

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