IN a landmark ruling, the Constitutional Court (ConCourt), has outlawed marriages of persons under the age of 18.
The verdict was unanimously arrived at by the full ConCourt bench which ruled in favour of two former child brides who took government to court in a ground-breaking bid to get child marriages declared illegal and unconstitutional.
They were represented by prominent lawyer, Tendai Biti.
The ruling was announced by ConCourt judge, Justice Venanda Ziyambi, who said the full details would be availed in due course.
The court noted that the section 221(1) of the Marriages Act, which allowed for child marriages under the customary law, should be scrapped as it is inconsistent with the national charter.
Section 78 of the Zimbabwean constitution sets 18 years as the legal age of consent and that only persons that have attained that age can enter into marriage.
This effectively renders section 22(1) of the Marriages Act invalid for its inconsistency with the national charter.
“With effect from the 20th of January 2016, no person, male or female shall enter into marriage below the age of 18,” said Ziyambi in announcing the ruling.
She also noted that the Marriages Act needs to be amended so to address the legal anomaly.
Chapter 1(2) of the constitution declares that “the constitution is the supreme law of the land of Zimbabwe and any law, practice, custom or conduct inconsistent with it is invalid to the extent of its inconsistency”.
Biti, addressing journalists outside the court, described the ruling as a revolutionary judgment.
“The court has made what I can call a revolutionary judgment for women and girls, the declaration that whether it’s customary law, or in terms of religious rights or any other cultural practice, no person below the age of 18, male or female, can get married. I think it’s an amazing judgment,” he said.
“I feared that they could leave it to the legislature but sometimes the legislature is indifferent and the courts play their part. Parliament should have done this many years ago. They had over 36 years to do it so it has taken a bold decision from a bold court, so it is a great day for women,” he added.
The news has also been received with celebration in the civic society.
Director of Real Open Opportunities for Transformation Support (ROOTS), Beatrice Savadye, welcomed the ruling.
ROOTS, together with legal and Parliamentary thinktank, Veritas, supported the two child brides Loveness Mudzuru and Ruvimbo Tsopodzi filed the application through Biti to ensure protection of children’s rights by challenging the Customary Law and Marriage Act.
“ROOTS welcomes this judgement which comes as a milestone in the campaign to end child marriages and the protection of for the rights of children, specifically young girls who remain the main victims of this scourge in society. We hope that Parliament will speed up the alignment of the Marriages Act and the Constitution which bars the marriage of persons under the age of 18 years. ROOTS also calls for stiffer sentences to all the perpetrators,” said Savadye.
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