34 percent of girls under the age of 18 were married off to adults in 2021.
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Commission probes child marriages in religious sects

MELISA CHATIKOBO

ZIMBABWE Gender Commission (ZGC)’s national inquiry into child marriages will contribute in the formulation of laws that will protect children from sexual exploitation in religious circles.

Speaking at the launch of the national inquiry in Harare at the weekend, ZGC chairperson commissioner Margaret Mukahanana-Sangarwe said the religious sector is not regulated.

“We are conducting an inquiry largely informed by 15-year-old Anna Machaya’s unfortunate death on the 16th of July 2021 whilst giving birth.

 “This triggered the commission to launch a nationwide investigation and public inquiry on sexual exploitation and abuse of young girls, including those with disabilities.

“Outcome of the public inquiry will be a report directed to Parliament and other duty bearers for implementation. The report will guide on policy formulation, reviews, reforms to laws and practices with the view to address the problem,” she said.

The commissioner added that ZGC was concerned with the surge in exploitation of young women and girls. “The Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (Zimstat) indicates that 33.7 percent of girls aged under 18 are married, which means that one in three girls under 18 are married.

“Zimstat also cited that two percent of boys get married before reaching the age of 18 years. We, therefore, need to take urgent action to address the scourge,” Mukahanana-Sangarwe alluded.

The commissioner said there has been progress made in the legislative front through the Marriage Bill which, among other things, prohibits the marriage of minors under the age of 18.

“Significantly, this is a step in the right direction. However, we bemoan the lack of its criminating provisions that would ensure total deterrence to potential perpetrators. It is our fervent hope that this milestone will be followed by policy measures which affords direct reprieve to survivors.

“In the legal front, we also anticipate full criminalisation of the practice as per our commitment to various international commitments.

“We are concerned with contradictions on the age of consent to marriage visa-vis the age of sexual consent and calls upon all duty bearers to iron out the inconsistencies. Strengthening of the legislative framework remains critical, therefore, the need for harmonisation of all the ancillary acts with the constitution cannot be overemphasised,” she said.

The inquiry started in Harare from April 4 to 8 April with closed hearings conducted with various stakeholders.

These will be followed by provincial hearings starting with five provinces, Harare, Manicaland, Mashonaland Central, Mashonaland West and Matabeleland South from May 8 to June 10, 2022.

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