By Gift Phiri
Parliament will soon approve a new law targeted at ending child marriages and enforce equal distribution of matrimonial property upon divorce or separation of spouses.
The law, expected to come into force by year-end, is part of reforms under the new Constitution overwhelmingly adopted in a March 2013 referendum.
The impending passage of the law — under the General Laws Amendment Bill — coincides with the Supreme Court’s calls for quicker and deeper reforms to help align the Marriages Act and the Customary Marriages Act to the new Constitution.
“…the Marriages Act and the Customary Marriages Act are among the pieces of legislation which were identified as requiring alignment to the Constitution,” Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs minister Emmerson Mnangagwa told the National Assembly last week.
“Some of the provisions in these Acts are incongruent with the supreme law of the land and thus need to be aligned thereto. Such issues as the abolition of child marriages in whatever form and the equitable distribution of matrimonial property upon divorce or separation of spouses, amongst other issues, is the subject matter to be considered in aligning these Acts,” he said, adding that “the two Acts will be harmonised under one Marriages Act”.
“At present, the Memorandum of Principles of the Marriage Bill has been prepared and will be presented before Cabinet for approval,” Mnangagwa, who is also vice president and leader of government business in the National Assembly, said.
“If the principles are approved, the drafting and consultative processes will follow before the Bill is presented to Parliament. It is important to note that the Marriages Bill is one of the legislation which formed part of the legislative agenda as presented by President Robert Mugabe when he officially opened the current parliamentary session in October 2016.
“As soon as the consultative and drafting stages are completed, the Bill will be brought before this…House. We are hopeful that this will be done during the current parliamentary session.”
He said some of the proposed amendments to the marriage regime, particularly the outlawing of child marriages, will be dealt with under the General Laws Amendment Bill.
“Drafting of these provisions is almost complete and these will be contained under the General Laws,” Mnangagwa said.
This comes on the back of two former child brides dragging government to court in a ground-breaking bid to get child marriages declared illegal and unconstitutional.
The then Deputy Chief Justice, Judge Luke Malaba, now the Chief Justice-designate, declared unconstitutional the long enduring practice of child marriages in January last year.
Loveness Mudzuru and Ruvimbo Tsopodzi had argued that child marriage, which is rife in Zimbabwe, was a form of child abuse which traps girls in lives of poverty and suffering.
In their statements to the Constitutional Court (Con-Court), Tsopodzi and Mudzuru — now 20 and 21 — argued that the Marriage Act was discriminatory because it set the minimum age at 16 for girls and 18 for boys. The Customary Marriage Act sets no minimum age.
In her affidavit, Mudzuru , who was married at 16 and had two children before she was 18, described how child marriage and poverty created a vicious circle.
“Young girls who marry early and often in poor families are then forced to produce young children in a sea of poverty and the cycle begins again,” she stated.
They won the case. Daily News