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Early marriages: Laws should be revisited, tightened

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Child marriages are a widely recognised violation of childrena��s rights and a direct form of discrimination against girls who are deprived of their basic rights to health, education, development and equality.

At an age where girls should be playing innocent games and gaining education, they are married off before they are psychologically and physically mature to start their own families.

Section 81 of the Constitution protects the rights of children and provides protection from sexual exploitation among other forms of abuse.

The Constitution says any person who is below the age of 18 is considered a child and therefore should be deemed to lack maturity and wisdom to start a family.

Child marriages deny the young the opportunity to empower themselves and challenge the basic right of these children to education, health, protection and development.

According to child psychologist Thelma Moyo girls should be mentally, physically and psychologically prepared for the responsibilities that marriage brings.

a�?Young girls should not be married off before they are mentally, physically and psychologically prepared for the responsibilities that marriage brings. The young girls are neither capable of handling themselves nor the burden of marital responsibilities,a�? said Moyo.

Sithembile Ndlovu, an early child development teacher says early marriages have serious negative consequences especially to the girl child as they are exposed to sexuality and violence.

a�?Girls, who are married early, are more vulnerable to sexuality and violence compared to women with higher levels of education. These young girls are more prone to violence as they are more dependent on their husbands for everything. They dona��t enjoy the sense of freedom,a�? Ndlovu said.

Pastor Dumisani Moyo from Harvest House International Church Njube says early child marriages contribute to higher rates of cervical cancer in women contributing to ill health and premature death.

This yeara��s commemorations of the day of the African Child, which is celebrated on 16 June every year, were held under the theme a�?Ending child marriage in Africaa�?, and this theme points to a challenge that has been haunting African children, particularly the girl child for ages.

In the past weeks, the local media has been abuzz with debate about the age of consent to sexual intercourse by young girls after a lot of suspects who were facing charges of sexually abusing young girls – some of them as young as 12 years – walked free after getting non-custodial sentences.

Thelma Moyo a psychologist says laws should be tightened to protect the girl child from sexual perpetrators.

a�?The laws should be revisited and tightened as the young girlsa�� future is being destroyed by sexual perpetrators who take advantage of thema�?, she said.

Organisations such as Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association have recently used platforms such as the press to appeal to the State and all legislative and judicial institutions and agencies of the Government at every level to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the right of children especially girls to be protected from sexual exploitation.

The First Lady, Dr Grace Mugabe, is one of the most vocal people when it comes to child marriage.