'Criminalise child marriages'

MUTARE - Former magistrate and current Chief Mutasa has said the constitutional edict outlawing the marriage of girls under 18 was an “empty threat” until there is criminal sanction at law.

Speaking during a Plan International workshop on ending child marriages, attended by chiefs, Chief Mutasa said the absence of a law to give effect to the constitutional pronouncement made the practice difficult to effectively deal with.

This comes after a full bench of the Constitutional Court (Con-Court) on January 20 last year handed down a very significant judgment for children, particularly the girl child.

The then deputy Chief Justice, Judge Luke Malaba, declared the long enduring practice of child marriages unconstitutional.

“Without a criminal sanction, the constitutional pronouncement becomes just an empty threat. We need Parliament to give us a law that would give effect to the constitutional provision,” he said.

“If we are serious about ending child marriages, we need that sanction. As it is it’s difficult to effectively deal with this problem from a legal stand point,” Chief Mutasa said.

His comments followed an admission by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) that they were in a quandary as they were unable to prosecute anyone who marries a girl under 18.

“This is our predicament at the moment and we hope Parliament would expedite the process,” prosecutor Malvern Musarurwa also told the meeting.

Police superintendent Alfred Kasikarirwi added that without the specific law, law enforcement agents were also powerless.

“At the moment, we cannot do anything because it is not a criminal offence to marry someone above 16 and below 18,” he said, adding that “chiefs can assist through the Chiefs’ Council to have the laws harmonised so that you give us power to decisively act on the issue”.

Plan International’s programme coordinator, Precious Babbage, said they consider an end to marriage of girls under 18 an emergency.

Babbage said they were facilitating discussion platforms for communities to explore ways to address the absence of a criminal sanction.

“We are hoping that platforms like this can help communities find ways to plug the gap. We are trying to engage all stakeholders because the solution lies with them.”

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