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Zimbabwe: Child brides take government to court over marriage laws (Trust)

Ruvimbo Tsopodzi says, “I’ve faced so many challenges. My husband beat me. I wanted to stay in school but he refused. It was very, very terrible.”

Mrs. Tsopodzi is one of two child brides who have petitioned the Zimbabwean court, asking it to declare child marriages illegal and unconstitutional.

She was married at 15 and has one child. She says child marriage, common in Zimbabwe, is a form of child abuse which traps girls in lives of poverty and suffering.

Ms. Tsopodzi says, “I want to take this action to make a difference. There are a lot of children getting married.”

According to data published in 2014, one-third of girls in Zimbabwe marry before their 18th birthday. Five per cent are married before they turn 15. Globally, some 15 million girls under the age of 18 are married off every year. Across sub-Saharan Africa, 40 per cent of women get married under 18, while they are still children.

Advocates argue that child marriage deprives girls of education and opportunities, and puts them at risk of exploitation, sexual violence, domestic abuse and serious injury or death in childbirth.

In their statements to the Constitutional Court, Mrs. Tsopodzi and Mrs. Loveness Mudzuru, now 19 and 20, argue that Zimbabwe’s Marriage Act is discriminatory because it sets the minimum age for marriage at 16 for girls and 18 for boys.

Zimbabwe’s constitution maintains that every child under 18 has the right to parental care, education and protection from “economic and sexual exploitation.” It does not set a minimum age for marriage, but states that no one should be forced to marry against their will. It also indicates that 18 is the minimum age for starting a family.

Poverty is the driving force behind child marriage in Zimbabwe. Parents often marry off girls so they have one less mouth to feed. Dowry payments may be a further incentive. Some communities also see child marriage as a way of protecting girls against premarital sex.

Beatrice Savadye heads the human rights group ROOTS, which is backing the groundbreaking case. She says the case has generated a lot of interest, both inside Zimbabwe and in other countries in the region. Ms. Savadye says it’s unclear when the court will give its decision, but that it must rule within six months.

Mrs. Mudzuru was married at 16 and had two children before she was 18. She says she spent her days trapped in drudgery and that her life was “hell.” She adds, “Young girls who marry early, and often in[to] poor families, are then forced to produce young children in a sea of poverty, and the cycle begins again.”

She adds, “My life is really tough. Raising a child when you are a child yourself is hard. I should be going to school.”

To read the full article on which this story was based, Child brides take Zimbabwe govt to court over marriage laws, go to: http://www.trust.org/item/20150324184754-rsz7n/ [1]

Photo: Pupils in Zimbabwe study outside their classrooms at Courtney Selous Primary School in the capital Harare February 10, 2010. Credit: REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo