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Zimbabwean Government on Trial Over Marriage Age for Girls

A girl tries to escape as she is forced to get married in the town of Marigat in Baringo County December 7, 2014. (REUTERS/Siegfried Modola)

A girl tries to escape as she is forced to get married in the town of Marigat in Baringo County December 7, 2014. (REUTERS/Siegfried Modola)

The African nation of Zimbabwe has long been known as a “hot spot” for child marriages. The United Nations says that as many as 31 percent of Zimbabwean girls are married before the age of 18. But, two such girls say enough is enough. They are taking steps to raise the legal age at which girls can be married.

Loveness Mudzuru and Ruvimbo Tsopodzi were just girls when they were married and gave birth for the first time. Now they are hoping to correct what they say was a violation of their rights. Zimbabwe’s highest court is now considering the case of the two young women.

They are seeking to raise the legal marriage age for girls from 16 years to 18 – the same as it is for boys. They also want to cancel existing child marriages. If the court agrees with them, the ruling could affect countless girls and their families.

Former finance minister Tendai Biti is serving as the lawyer for the two women. He argued in court this month that the legal age should be 18. That way, he says, the young women are old enough to make their own decisions.

“One in three Zimbabwean women is marrying below the age of 18. Twenty-five percent are, in fact, being married or impregnated before the age of 15. So these are young children.”

Tendai Biti argued in court that Zimbabwe’s new constitution identifies 18 as the legal age to decide to have a family. He said that approving marriage at a younger age violates Article 56 of the constitution, which guarantees equal protection under the law.

Emmily Naphambo is with the development group Plan International. She says child marriage fails to protect the rights of children, and needs to end.

“We have very high prevalence of child marriages – second from South Asia. So as a region, we are at 37 percent, but within that region we have ‘hot spots,’ which are countries with even much higher prevalence rates above 37 percent. For example, in Mozambique, in Malawi, in Zimbabwe, in Zambia, in all these countries, the prevalence rates are pretty close to 50 percent. For every 100 girls, 50 of them are already married by the time they are 18 years old.”

Opponents of child marriage say it is often a result of poverty, lack of knowledge and cultural beliefs. They note such marriages can lead to human rights violations. For example, marriage at an early age can prevent a girl from continuing her education. It can also reduce the chance of her getting a good job and good health care.

Zimbabwean officials say the results of child marriages can even be deadly. They say the nation’s high death rates for children and mothers can be linked to the large number of mothers who are too young.

It is not clear when the Constitutional Court will rule in the case.

I’m Caty Weaver.

This report was based on a story from reporter Sebastian Mhofu in Harare. George Grow wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.


Words in This Story

child - n. a boy or girl

correct - v. to change to what is right

court - n. where trials take place; where judges make decisions about the law

cultural - adj. of or related to the beliefs, traditions and arts of a population or group

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