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Child rights organisation Plan International has welcomed Zimbabwe’s landmark judgement, declaring 18 the legal minimum age of marriage, while all forms of child marriage have been deemed unconstitutional.
Previously, girls could get married age 16, while boys could marry at 18. On Wednesday 20 January 2016, the court ruled that section 22 of the Marriages Act is unconstitutional and therefore “no person, girl or boy should be married before the age of 18”.
Plan International Zimbabwe’s Country Director, Lennart Reinius, said:
“We welcome this milestone judgement. It has set the tone with respect to this damaging issue, which has been prohibiting girls from reaching their full potential for years.
“Child marriage violates the fundamental human rights of girls and boys, but disproportionately affects girls. Girls are denied their right to a consensual marriage, as well as their right to an education, protection, economic engagement and reproductive health care.
“Through our 18+ Ending Child Marriages project, Plan International has worked hard to ensure social and policy change is put in place, so we can eradicate all forms child marriage.”
The ruling follows a year-long case from 2015, where two former young brides, Loveness Mudzuru and Ruvimbo Tsopodzi, filed an application asking the Constitutional Court to declare the Marriage Act and Customary Marriage Act a breach of the new constitution.
Now, the court has further said other illegitimate marriages that have taken place on cultural or religious grounds are unconstitutional.
Following this landmark decision, Zimbabwe now becomes the second country after Malawi to outlaw child marriage
Plan International’s Regional Gender Equality Specialist, Tinotenda Hondo, has applauded the courageous and visionary stance and is calling for other countries across the continent to follow suit and eliminate child marriage, following the African Union Campaign and its current efforts to develop a national action plan on ending child marriage.
While the judicial judgement is a step in the right direction, there is still an urgent call for the Government of Zimbabwe to amend marriage and other relevant laws still at odds with the constitution and that could create an opportunity for child marriage to continue.
“Plan International Zimbabwe is committed to continuing our work withcommunities to change social norms and attitudes which cause child marriage. Together we can accelerate our collective efforts to end this damaging practice,” says Mr Reinius.
Through its flagship Because I am a Girl campaign, Plan International has been working with communities to educate, traditional leaders, media and national governments about the dangers of child marriage. The 18+ Ending Child Marriages in Southern Africa is Plan International’s Region of East and Southern Africa’ s flagship programme that aims to eradicate child marriage in Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.