Early marriage or Rape? Zimbabwe Gender Commission turns heat on early marriage perpetrators

By Theophilus Chuma

The heat is being turned on perpetrators of early marriages in the wake of calls for authorities

Statutory rape disguised as early marriage – this is the view of the majority and activists with regards to the vice that is destroying the future of thousands of young girls.

Religious sects have been caught in this matrix, with the case of 14-year-old Anna Machaya opening a Pandora’s box to a practice that has surprisingly been sanitized by society and religion.

 The Zimbabwe Gender Commission is however leading the lobby to redefine early marriages for what they truly are.

“It is actually rape and what we are doing as the Zimbabwe Gender Commission is push for stiffer penalties for the perpetrators, while also raising awareness on gender-based violence,” Zimbabwe Gender Commission Chief Executive Officer, Mrs Virginia Muwanigwa said.

With several cases of the practice being recorded almost daily, there is a growing call to action for authorities to relook into existing legal frameworks.

Katswe Sistahood representative Debra Mwale said: “We have powerful legal instruments such as Section 78(2) of the Constitution which provides that no person can be compelled to enter into a marriage against their will. Section 70 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act (Chapter 9:23) provides that any person who has sexual intercourse with a person below the age of 16 years, with or without their consent, shall be guilty of rape or aggravated indecent assault or indecent assault.

“The Domestic Violence Act (Chapter 5:16) criminalises abuse derived from any cultural or customary rites or practices, including child and forced marriages that discriminate against or degrade girls and women. These are very powerful legal provisions, however have gaps that need to be addressed because they leave room for perpetrators to defence.”

A justice drive for the late Anna Machaya spearheaded by the Women Coalition of Zimbabwe and other gender rights organisations has set the tone in raising awareness against the vice.

“Indeed, we should now be looking at making sure that we scale up awareness within religious sects so that we effectively address increasing cases of early marriages and gender based violence,” said Shamwari YeMwanasikana Executive Director, Ekenia Chifamba.

The consensus is that enhanced awareness and finalisation of important blueprints such as the Guardianship of Minors Amendment Bill and adjustment of the Marriages Act is vital to eradicate early marriages.

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