Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court outlawed child marriage on Wednesday, in an effort to end a practice that a rights group says is common in this southern African nation.
The Constitutional Court struck down provisions in the country’s marriage laws that allow girls to marry at 16 and boys at 18. Under the new laws, neither boys nor girls may marry until the age of 18, “whether unregistered, customary or religious” unions, Judge Vernanda Ziyambi said while delivering a unanimous ruling. The ruling is effective immediately, the judge said, adding that she will go into greater detail on the court’s decision at a later stage.
Two young women who were both forced to marry when they became pregnant as teenagers brought the case to the Constitutional Court in 2014.
Ruvimbo Tsopodzi, now 20, was 15 when she had to get married. She was forced to leave the marriage and return to her parents’ home after suffering emotional and physical abuse, she told the court in a signed affidavit.
“My life is hell at the moment and cannot be wished on anyone else,” Tsopodzi’s testimony said.
“Raising a child when you are a child yourself is excruciating and painful,” said Loveness Mudzuru, who was also married at 15, and had two children by the age of 19.
“It is a great day for women and the girl child,” said Tendai Biti, the lawyer who represented the two women. “Parliament should now legislate for tougher jail sentences.”
A third of Zimbabwean women aged 20 to 49 told the Zimbabwe’s National Statistics Agency that they married before the age of 18, a Human Rights Watch report said in November last year. Girls as young as 12 were married off due to poverty or religious and customary practices, the group said.