By Anna Chibamu
OPPOSITION MDC Alliance MP Ruth Labode (proportional representation) has called for an all-stakeholders national dialogue over increasing cases of child marriages.
She described the vice as an “epidemic affecting the whole nation”.
Speaking in the National assembly Wednesday Labode said it was wrong for government to single out the recent Marange child marriage case yet the whole country is affected by such issues.
“The minister (Women’s Affairs Sithembiso Nyoni), early this year came to Parliament and gave a report of over 5 000 girls who had become pregnant on a period of three months. These are all below 15 and 16. Currently if you go round all maternity homes where children are delivering, even the statistics within the ministry, there are 14, 15 and 16 year olds. So, when we are talking of child marriages, let us not isolate it as if it is a Marange thing, it is a national epidemic and we really need to deal with it in that form. First of all, we must say what is causing a normal mother to want to marry out a 14-year-old, let us forget about Marange, it is poverty,” Labode cautioned other MPs.
Labone urged Nyoni to call for a national dialogue on the issue.
“I think the minister of Women’s Affairs needs to call for a national dialogue on this issue, it is not a small thing. It is a national problem so let us not cover our heads in the sand and think that we have dealt with the issue. We have not dealt with the issue, it is a reality which is going on the ground, please call for a dialogue,” said Labode.
Parliament is currently stuck with the Marriages Bill which has been stalled by Senate after being passed in the National Assembly.
According to Ziyambi, Senate has been sitting on the bill for the reason that Parliament must legislate for the payment of lobola.
“Our position is that it is against several international conventions that we signed. It even contravenes the Constitution and the legal age of majority. Once you indicate that you cannot marry without paying lobola, it means that that particular woman is an adult minor, she cannot make a decision on her own,” Ziyambi explained.
He further elaborated, “l was not of the opinion that the bill should pass in that form and we take it here and allow a disagreement but to respect each other so that we negotiate and come to a common position, that we all agree, that is the position.
“The Marriage Bill does not have a criminal sanction for marriages under 18 but it outlaws them. In other words, what we need to do is to look at other laws, the Criminal Code, already it criminalises having sexual intercourse with a young girl. In the case at hand (Marange) it is not about marriage per se because marriages are outlawed. That Marange man does not have a marriage certificate, he is not married to the girl but they cohabit.”
Ziyambi occurred with Gonese on engaging communities so that communities appreciate that certain practices are now out of date.
“We can look at our Criminal Code and see how we can tighten it but we must also engage our communities so that some of the harmful practices that we do, we do away with them,” said Ziyambi
According to the minister, the Bill did not prescribe a criminal sanction, it merely outlawed.
“When it was drafted (Marriages Bill), we were very cautious because it would mean that we would send to jail a lot of young adults. So, the approach was we will outlaw, but there was no criminal sanction that was inserted into the Bill.”