WHILE the Constitutional Court (ConCourt) ruling on the age of marriage has been widely received with applause by rights activists, it has ruffled feathers in some quarters especially the Apostolic sects.
Many people who are praising this ruling believe that at 18 years, parties to the marriage would be mature enough and ready to shoulder the responsibilities of a spouse or parent and so the judgment would likely mitigate separations and divorces.
But there are some who still argue otherwise.
A certain section of Zimbabwe’s society strongly feels that the ConCourt ruling was not realistic and failed to honestly interrogate the matter to a logical conclusion, having only heard arguments of two teenagers whose views could possibly not honestly reflect that of other teenagers, who may not have been forced into marriage, as the two girls’ situation, but may have independently chosen to enter into marriage.
This group is fervently arguing that the ConCourt judges seemed to be unaware of the fact that nowadays, children are physically developing faster than in the past and have early exposure to sexual knowledge and activities through the media and various health promoting campaigns such male circumcision and safe sex as highlighted by the “condomisation” crusade.
They said because the ConCourt ruling, which shifted the legal age of marriage from 16 years (which previously required the consent of the master of the High Court) to 18 (own consent) for all marriages in Zimbabwe, applies to all individuals and organisations or institutions — be they religious and traditional — it would effectively drive the child marriage issue underground instead of out of existence.
This constituency of people belong to indigenous religious groups that included the Apostolic sects.
Although they largely welcomed the ConCourt position, they are encouraging lawmakers to further interrogate all facts surrounding this issue.
A representative of the John Marange Apostolic sect I interviewed on condition that his name was not mentioned, said: “We agree with this law, but there is need for people to know that, though this law is not targeted at us (Apostolic sects), it has universal application. Recently, in a local vernacular newspaper, an article said that a 14-year-old boy impregnated two girls aged 13 and 18. I do not think that all the three teenagers involved belonged to our sect. This law must have universal, fair and equal application. What we want to know is how the government will enforce this law in every quarter because child marriages are likely to continue in the in secret”.
He added: “The court seems to go against God’s law: The law of love, which states that it is better to marry than to burn with passion. Even most doctors agree that today’s children are maturing faster and are exposed to sexual knowledge and activities earlier due to what they watch on TV, Facebook and WhatsApp.”
After passing such a law, and in the spirit of better application and enforcement of the same law, I therefore also now feel that the government should therefore seek to address the major factors that trigger behaviours that lead to the breaking of the law. Adverts and campaigns against the spread of HIV and Aids; against child marriages; and others on circumcision and safe sex should be child-sensitive. Otherwise, these campaigns would do more harm than good by inadvertently arousing sexual passions of young ones that would be quenched through unworthy means at young ages.
In essence the ConCourt ruling seeks, among other things, to rule out consent of any other person except that of the individual parties to marry.
Previously the consent of the Master of the High Court would be sought for a girl desiring to marry at 16 years. The parents or guardian’s consent was sought if the girl was 17 years old.
Clearly, as I see it, the courts are doing their best in coming up with laws that help to protect the rights of children and the sanctity of marriage.
In this spirit, the High Court has passed a law that allows a legally married wife to sue a girlfriend of her husband for adultery damages. Now the ConCourt has extended the legal age of marriage emphasising the need for parties to a marriage to have own consent.
Government should be applauded for this stance that seeks to protect children and legal marriages because it is in line with positions being taken by other African countries.
When I was in Zambia last December, there was a campaign against child marriages. They were specifically demonstrating against girl-child marriages.
While no one is above the law, it is my opinion that constructive analysis is indeed warranted.
If the law states that there should be no formal marriages below the age of 18, shouldn’t government come up with another law that prohibits sex before that age of marriage?
If the law prohibits marriage before the age of 18 years, but allows sex before marriage, even when an individual is under 18 years, then fornication, pregnancies and children born outside of marriage would definitely increase.
Remember, someone once proposed that contraceptives be given to school pupils; what had that person seen? If the law will not allow sex before marriage, how is that going to be enforced? Many pubs do not allow persons who are under 18 years to enter, but these days it seems the signpost at the pub doors should actually read: “Only under 18” instead of the “No under 18.” –Mairos Mubvumbi
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