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Zim safeguarding laws failing to curtail child marriages, Veritas Zimbabwe

Via Veritas Zimbabwe

INTERNATIONAL DAY OF THE GIRL CHILD MESSAGE

11th October 2023

Invest in Girls’ Rights : Our Leadership, Our Well-being

World over, the 11th of October is celebrated as International day of the Girl Child. The United Nations International Day was first celebrated in 2012 as a way to raise awareness about gender inequality and to advocate for girls’ rights and empowerment. The day focuses on challenges girls face and what steps can be taken to fulfil their human rights.

The theme this year is paired with a call by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to increase the budget for investments for adolescents by $1 billion world-wide. The UNICEF mentions that there is an urgent need for increased attention and resourcing for key areas which enable girls to realise their rights and achieve their full potential. It is a theme that calls on all nations to put their money where their mouth is.

Investing in girls’ rights means to go a step further than just financial backing , it also means showing true political will in reforming rights for girls . It also means paying attention to gender parity laws when it comes to leadership so that young women and girls’ needs are not only put forward but so that those girls can be inspired to lead us in the future.

Zimbabwe’s Efforts to Protect Girls

Over the past decade, Zimbabwe has had two landmark judgments which were meant to change life for girls in Zimbabwe tremendously. Both these cases were brought by Veritas in an effort to align child protection laws with the Constitution. In 2016, child marriages were banned by the Constitutional Court and in 2022, the age of consent was raised to 18 years. Both judgments sought to address the unacceptable reality that still about 1 in 3 girls in Zimbabwe under the age of 18 is married. This means that nearly one third of girls automatically do not finish school, do not explore childhood and are stripped of opportunity and potential and the whole country will be impoverished as a consequence.

Although efforts have been made in amending the Marriages Act to raise the age of marriage to 18, the efforts to actually curtail child marriages have been disheartening. Statistics show that since 2016, there has been very little change in the number of girls married before the age of 18 in the country.

The age of consent judgment passed last year, also faces similar lack of will as its predecessor to ban child marriages. In the judgment, the legislature had been tasked to amend certain provisions of the Criminal Law Code which are in contravention of s81(1)(e) of the Constitution which protects children from sexual exploitation. This has not yet been done. Last year, there were even multiple shocking reports in the media as children as young as 8 years were pregnant.

Apart from sexual exploitation, girls in Zimbabwe also face other injustices such as child labour. According to the international organisation called Stop Child Labour at least 40% of Zimbabwe’s children are involved in one form of labour or another. Although the statistic is not specific to girls, it cannot be ignored that many domestic workers in the country are often girls below the age of 18. This has become an unchallenged norm although it is in direct contravention of rights which bar child labour and promote education.

Conclusion

As we commemorate the Day of the Girl Child, we remember that girls are the future of the nation and should be treated with dignity and respect, allowed to be educated, and not abused by men especially older men, nor exploited by their families for lobola or cheap labour. We call for serious commitment to the rights of the girl child by the government that is backed by action especially in the area of banning child marriages.

May we all commit wholeheartedly to protecting the rights of the girl child.

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