Feature: Child rights get more focus in bid to fight early marriages

Source: Feature: Child rights get more focus in bid to fight early marriages –Newsday Zimbabwe

File pic: Pregnant teen

DURING the year 2022, violation of children’s rights in Zimbabwe was rampant, with girls being forced into motherhood at an early age, while several cases of child marriages were reported.

There were also disturbing reports of child labour.

In March 2022, the United Nations Children’s Fund produced shocking statistics of child marriages that revealed that one in three girls in Zimbabwe gets married before the age of 18, while 5% of girls are married off before the age of 15.

The revelations show that the country has a serious problem of child marriages.

In 2022, newspapers were awash with stories of girls impregnated at very young ages, and in some cases, young girls were married off to older men.

Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CiZC) said 20 000 schoolgirls fell pregnant between September 2021 and August 2022.

“It is mostly attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic that disrupted efforts made to end child marriages, which resulted in many girls being forced into early marriages,” the CiCZ report read.

Despite government’s calls for girls to return to school even after giving birth, some are said to be shy to do so.

Of particular interest in 2022 pertaining to child marriages was a case of an eight-year-old pregnant Bindura girl.

This happened at a time when a nine-year-old Tsholotsho girl was reportedly impregnated by her 13-year-old cousin.

Child rights experts said it was disturbing that minors were also perpetrators, a situation that fuels early marriages for boys and girls.

Children’s rights advocate Pamellah Musimwa told NewsDay Weekender that: “As a country, we still await the passing of the Child Justice Bill, the Children Amendment Act and amendments to the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act and the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act, which we hope will curb child marriages perpetrated by older men and juveniles.”

To curb the vice, this year, government introduced new pieces of legislation that have a bearing on child rights protection.

Such laws include the Marriages Act, which has increased the age of sexual consent to 18 years, and the Guardianship of Minors Amendment Act, which gives both parents equal rights on matters of guardianship and custody, and prohibits parents from consenting to their minor children’s marriage, which is a good development given the outcry regarding the rampant child marriages in Zimbabwe.

The Supreme Court this year confirmed the equality of every child whether legitimate or born out of wedlock with regards to custody and access by their parents.

“This means that the year 2022 realised notable gains in the area of child rights in terms of both jurisprudence and law reform. Of significance is the positive jurisprudence created by our courts in the area of child rights in line with the spirit of the Constitution, especially when the Constitutional Court confirmed that the age of sexual consent in Zimbabwe is 18 years, not 16 years, thereby protecting Zimbabwean children against sexual predators,” Musimwa said.

“We expect that all outstanding child protection amendments and Bills will be passed into law in 2023, while at the same time there is full implementation of existing progressive laws. Further, the welfare of children should be prioritised and this should be reflected in the 2023 national budget. It is important that as a country — together with our children, in 2023, we must understand and craft lasting solutions on critical issues affecting children from a broader perspective aimed at both prevention of abuse and protection of children.”

Another child rights expert Opal Sibanda said there was need to protect children against sexual abuse, including child pornography, adding that citizens should be acquainted with such laws and violations that can impact negatively on children.

“Care must be taken by users of social media to avoid sexual exploitation of children. We have established that the advancement of digital media technologies, like the internet and smartphones, has given many people the power to share content in various forms. This can be a danger, especially when dealing with sensitive issues,” Sibanda said.

“Media professionals must make use of, and are guided by media laws and ethics. Such regulations make it easier to control the distribution of sensitive information.

“But since the power to share information has been decentralised, it is more essential than ever to highlight media ethics and laws, especially in the context of ‘citizen journalists’ to avoid abuse of children on social media.”

In 2022, popular socialite and influencer Felistas Murata, better known as Mai Titi, trended on social media after she confronted a woman over her failure to report a video of her minor child holding her lover’s manhood (in other words being sexually abused).

It is alleged that the woman kept the video on her phone until it was discovered by one of her sisters, who informed her relatives about it.

In April this year, the United States (US) embassy in Harare produced a damning report which stated that an estimated 840 000 schoolchildren had quit school since 2020 following the outbreak of COVID-19.

But government scoffed at the statistics, with Public Service minister Paul Mavima yesterday saying the report fed into the hostile US agenda against Zimbabwe.

“Children participated in hazardous activities or other forms of child labour in subsistence agriculture, growing sugarcane and tobacco (the latter cited by non-governmental organisations as posing adverse health effects for child workers), domestic service, street begging, informal trading, artisanal gold mining, and sex work,” the US report read.

Due to an increase in cases of child abuse in the country, on Tuesday during a post-Cabinet media briefing, Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services minister Monica Mutsvangwa announced that Vice-President and Health and Child Care minister Constantino Chiwenga had approved the first periodic report of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child Optional Protocol on Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict.

In his report on the convention, Chiwenga said: “The Constitution prohibits the recruitment of a persons under the age of 18 (a child) into the militia, forced or armed conflict or hostilities, and the children’s Amendment Bill, the Guardianship of Minors Act, the Child Justice Bill, the Marriages Bill and the Education Act are being aligned to the Constitution.”

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