Call to criminalise child marriages

HARARE - Zimbabwe's drive towards criminalising child marriages has been lauded as a major step towards improving women’s reproductive health and economic empowerment, a UN agency has said.

United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Country Representative Esther Muia speaking during the launch of the State of the World Population Report(SWOP) said this would keep girls in school longer and improve their ability to plan their own families.

The SWOP is a flagship report published annually by UNFPA — this year’s report is titled The Power of Choice: Reproductive Rights and the Demographic Transition.

“Current efforts through the ministry of Justice to review the Marriage Bill with the aim to criminalise child marriages should also be commended,” Muia said.

Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Enterprise Development, working with Parliamentarians, has been key in leading efforts to review the Marriage Bill that will make it criminal to marry a girl below the age of 18.

She said child marriages generally disempower girls and women of the ability to choose if and when to have children as well as how often.

“Access to choice for girls and young women in Zimbabwe improves their chances of staying in school longer and this therefore enhances their ability to exercise choice with their sexual reproductive health throughout their lives.

“They become more able to decide on the size and timing of their families at the same remaining economically active,” Muia said.

Family size is closely linked with reproductive rights, which, in turn, are tied to many other rights, including the right to adequate health, education, and jobs.
Where people can exercise their rights, they tend to thrive.

Where these rights are stifled, people often fail to achieve their full potential, impeding economic and social progress, according to the report.

She said all women across the globe can be empowered to have choice and control over their fertility so as to optimise their lives.

“Choice can be a reality everywhere. Countries need to empower women to exercise this choice.”

She applauded local modern contraceptive usage which at 67 percent is one of the highest on the continent.

In developing countries, 671 million women have chosen to use modern contraception and 214 million women are at risk of unintended pregnancy because their reproductive choices are limited by a lack of modern contraception.

“I commend the achievement of a 67 percent Contraceptive Prevalence Rate, considered one of the highest in Africa. The country will soon be meeting its 2020 target of 68 percent,” she said.

She, however, said the country should not relax as there is still “a national unmet need for family planning of 10 percent, particularly amongst adolescents — 12,6 percent and women over 40 – 14 percent.”

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