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Zimbabwe Constitutional Court Outlaws Child Marriages

Tendai Biti seen after the Constitutional Court ruling in Harare. (Photo: Mavis Gama)

Zimbabwe's highest court, the Constitutional Court, has outlawed child marriages decreeing that any person who intends to get married should be at least 18 years of age.

The ruling follows an application by human rights lawyers who wanted legal age of marriage be moved to 18 for both men and women.

The case was filed by former Finance Minister and leader of the People’s Democratic Party, Tendai Biti, and two minor children.

Following the court’s ruling, Biti, who is also a lawyer, described the judgment as an important milestone in the protection of women and children’s rights.

“The court has passed what I can only describe as a revolutionary judgment for women and for girl children; the declaration that whether at customary law, whether in terms of religious rights or other cultural practices no person below the age of 18, man or woman, can get married. I think its an amazing judgement. I am pleased to be part of this history.”

He added that he was not happy that the legislature was taking its time to align several laws to the new constitution so that women and children’s rights were protected.

“Parliament should have done this many years ago. They had over 36 years to do it (but ) they didn’t do it, so it has taken a bold decision from a bold court to do so it’s a great day for women.”

Reacting to the ruling, prominent human rights activist Jestina Mukoko of the Zimbabwe Peace Project said that enforcement of Wedesday’s ruling is going to be easy without the realignment of other pieces of legislation, arguing that the national constitution supersedes any legislation.

Mukoko urged rights activists focusing on women and children’s rights to launch massive campaigns to ensure that all the country’s citizens are aware that child marriages are illegal and unconstitutional.

Angela Machonesa of Plan International said they are happy with the ruling.

Some activists say many children were being forced into early marriages because of poverty while some parents were covering up for statutory rape by forcing their children to be married to their abusers.

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