MPs' stance on child marriages sensible

HARARE - Opposition legislators are finally challenging discriminatory social norms buttressing child marriages by opening debate in the National Assembly today to end the cycle of lifelong disadvantage for girls.

Opposition MDC chief whip Innocent Gonese and Bulawayo Central MP Dorcas Sibanda said they are “desirous that child marriages must be ended as a matter of urgency”, noting that educated girls are a development investment.

These are part of attempts to domesticate a regional model law that also protects children already in marriage following its unanimous adoption by the region at the Sadc Parliamentary Forum’s 39th assembly forum in Ezulwini, Swaziland on June 3, 2016.

This is one of the few examples of community-driven initiatives that deserve wider support and recognition. No doubt, Zimbabwe urgently needs to harmonise policies and legislation to bring an end to child marriage.

There is also need to bring this lengthy and technical model law to the communities. Without awareness-raising around the purpose of the model law, local communities will simply not be able to own nor use the legislation.

East and southern Africa alone harbours seven million child brides. The Sadc-PF and other partners developed the model law in response to the high prevalence of child marriage in southern Africa, which is largely driven by high poverty levels, gender inequity, traditions, religion and limited educational opportunities for girls.

Girls are prevented from completing their education; they endure increased health risks, and face domestic violence and abuse. It is the State’s duty to use its power to ensure that girls are accorded an equal chance to live, learn and be protected.

An all-involving approach crafted around the model law should stop all these ills. Outside of parental pressure, early marriages are rooted in societal norms and practices.

Besides domesticating the model law, child marriages are already in contravention of Zimbabwe’s international obligations, including the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Stopping child marriage has a significant bearing on women’s education and there is a clear multiplier effect to educating girls. Ending child marriage is not only about setting a minimum age of marriage and ensuring it is explicitly prohibited by the law.

It is also about ensuring that the women and girls directly affected by child marriage are both protected and consulted.

It is about providing adequate training to the judiciary responsible for implementing the law.

Finally, it is about conducting in-depth research in remote areas that often fall through the cracks of data collection.

 

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