Previously, the legal age of marriage was 16 for girls, compared to 18 for boys. In a significant court ruling on 20 January, section 22 of the Marriage Act was deemed unconstitutional. The court ruled that “no person, girl or boy, should be married before the age of 18”. The case was brought to the court in 2014 by Loveness Mudzuru and Ruvimbo Tsopodzi, two former child brides.
Child marriage currently affects an estimated 31% of girls under the age of 18 in Zimbabwe. It is extremely common in rural, isolated areas of the country. A lot of work is still required by the Government of Zimbabwe to see that the new ruling is rolled out and enforced across the entire country.
In 2013, a constitution was adopted which orders that “no person may be compelled to enter marriage against their will”. Even with a law in place, it is difficult to monitor if children entering marriage are doing it willingly or have been persuaded.
Why does child marriage happen?
Child marriage typically affects children living in poverty. In some cases, early marriage is a way to generate income. Suitors will trade material items or a monetary amount to the family of their young bride in exchange for her hand in marriage. Social prestige of the groom and traditional practice are other reasons why girls enter marriage early.
According to the World Bank, roughly 72% of people in Zimbabwe live in poverty. Early marriage reinforces the cycle of poverty as it prevents education and employment opportunities. It also increases early pregnancy and gender inequalities.
SOS Children preventing child marriage
SOS Children believes that every child has the right to experience and enjoy their childhood. From our programmes on the ground to advocating at the United Nations, we work to ensure all children’s rights are protected.
A core part of our work is championing education. When a child enters marriage their education is compromised due to inconsistent attendance. Our SOS Primary Schools, Secondary Schools and community outreach programmes prevent child marriage and keep girls in school.
In Juah town, Liberia, the SOS School is the only school in the community. When the school opened the drop-out rate was alarmingly high due to early marriage. However, we have been able to change that. The SOS Family Strengthening Programme has worked with the local community to reduce the drop-out rate from 75% to 25%.
In Malawi, we provide girls the resources and support to leave their child marriage and return to school. We are educating communities on the benefits of keeping girls in school to help reduce child marriage and boost their community’s economy.
SOS Children works in 125 countries to keep orphaned and vulnerable children safe. In 2014, we helped educate 134,700 children, young people and adults around the world. Discover all of the ways our education programmes benefit society.