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Ending child marriages: Govt urged to review age of consent upwards to 18 years

BULAWAYO residents say one of the ways of curbing child marriages is revising the age of consent from 16 to18 years.

The residents told the joint Portfolio Committees on Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development, Youth Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment, Justice Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Health and Child Care at a consultation meeting on ending child marriages.

The legislators were told revising the age up would ensure early sexual activities are delayed; as such activity often culminate in early marriages especially in the event where the girl falls pregnant.

“The age of consent and that of marriage should not be any different considering the fact that when the girl involved falls pregnant it means they will be forced to start a family, hence we should guard against such,” said a participant, Mthulisi Moyo.

The Youth Accountability board member said at 16, the body won’t be strong enough to bear a child and hence the law should be reviewed by two years.

Another resident, Justin Dube, said people should be working on making sure that there is no child below the age of 18 in a marriage in their communities.

“We want to come to a point where by we say we do not want to see anyone under the age of 18 belonging to any marriage institution I think that should be the fundamental principle of this discussion,” said Dube.

He said marriages are not all about having sexual intercourse but there were other serious responsibilities, which cannot be handled by children.

“Lets make sure that any one who is below 18 is not found in a marriage institution because it has many other demands besides sex. It comes with other duties that young girls will be exposed to and these will be beyond their abilities,” said Dube.

A member of Vulindlela Garden Orphan Care, Patricia Tshabalala, said children must be nurtured under strict supervision to avoid chances of them indulging in sexual activities early.

“As a child I was brought up properly, our guardians did not allow us to go out at night, so we want this law to be changed and regard children as children instead of making them wives,” said Tshabalala.

A human rights activist Lizwe Jamela from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, said the proposition by residents more or less consolidates all the pieces of legislation that speak about a child considering a minor is someone below the age of 18.

“When it comes to issues of sexual intercourse if we are agreeing as a nation that there is no harm in children having sex at 16, that is us agreeing, but if we are not agreeing, we are saying children should not indulge in sex at 16 they should start having sex at 18 so be it that’s what we agree.

“It goes without saying that marriage also should be in line with the age of consent,” said Jamela.

The Constitutional Court last year made a landmark judgment that outlawed any unions involving children below 18-years.

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