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Zimbabwe Teenagers Challenge Constitutionality of Marriage Laws

Tendai Biti

Two teenagers on Wednesday approached Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court seeking an order to declare child marriages illegal and unconstitutional.

In papers presented before the full Constitutional Court bench, Loveness Mudzuru and Ruvimbo Tsopodzwa, who were married before the age of 18, argue that early marriages violate the country’s new constitution.

Their attorney, Tendai Biti, told the court that Section 22 of the Marriages Act that recognizes 16 years as the legal age of consent violates Section 78 of the new supreme law of the nation, which stipulates that anyone who has reached the age of 18 has a right to have a family.

Biti said the section also breaches Article 56 of the constitution which provides for equal protection and benefits of the law. He added that the absence of a law that is consistent with the new constitution is resulting in increased child marriages in the country.

Biti said early marriages also violate the Child Protection Act.

But state attorney, Olivia Zvedi, who was representing Vice President and Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, cited in the case as a respondent in his official capacity as law minister, argued that the new constitution is vague when it makes a direct reference to marriages.

Zvedi told the court that the new governing charter does not specify an age of marriage but later conceded, after being pressed by Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku, that the constitution recognizes 18 as the age at which one can have a family.

Before adjourning, Chidyausiku announced that the court was reserving its judgment on the matter.

Reacting to the case, director Beatrice Savadye of the Re-opening Opportunities for Transformation Support, or Roots, said her organization saw it fit to take up Mudzuru and Tsopodzwa’s matter after realizing that child marriages are on the rise in Zimbabwe.

A survey carried out by the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency released last month indicated that 31 percent of Zimbabwean women were involved in marriages or unions before reaching the age of 18.

On the other hand, the United Nations Children’s Fund or UNICEF says at least 25,000 girls are involved in early marriages or unions globally per day.

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