By Paidamoyo Chipunza and Abigail Mawonde
An average of 240 pupils have dropped from school since the beginning of the year in Mbire district, Mashonaland Central province, chiefly because of early child marriages.
The Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development confirmed the statistics yesterday during a workshop on gender mainstreaming in Ruwa.
Deputy director for gender in the ministry Mr Stephen Nyaruwata said the district was reporting an average of 40 child marriages a month.
He said Makuvatsine Secondary School had the highest number of school dropouts.
The majority of them were from Wards 1, 2, 5 and 22.
These are near the Zambian border.
“Issues of gender mainstreaming are beyond power struggles between men and women. They have all to do with national development.
He said Government was establishing gender committees across the country to help ensure gender equality.
This will ensure women get equal opportunities as their male counterparts.
These committees will work with gender focal persons to help intensify Government’s response.
Responding to questions from journalists during a press conference yesterday to mark the Day of the African Child set for today, Women and Law in Southern Africa national director Ms Slyvia Chirawu blamed child marriages on weak laws.
Ms Chirawu said there was need to quickly harmonise current laws with the national Constitution to protect young girls from abuse.
She said it was important to repeal laws that permitted child marriages.
Child marriages must also be criminalised under the Criminal Law Code.
Ms Chirawu urged the courts to severely punish offenders.
“The Marriage Act in Section 22(1) states that no boy aged below 18 and no girl aged below 16 may marry except with the written consent of the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs. This means that girls can marry at 16 years.”
Ms Chirawu added: “The Children’s Act (Chapter 5:06) defines a child as a person under the age of 16 and a young person as someone aged 16 but below 18. The same Act defines a legal guardian to mean also a husband of a girl who is under 18 years.
The Maintenance Act (Chapter 5:09) in Section 11 states that maintenance for a child shall cease when they marry meaning that the Act recognises child marriages.
Section 8 of the Matrimonial Causes Act states that a maintenance order in favour of a child shall cease when a child marries meaning that it recognises child marriages.
The Guardianship of Minors Act (Chapter 5:08) states that in Section 4(1)b that a parent who is granted sole guardianship shall also have power to consent to the marriage of a minor child.”
Ms Chirawu said the General Law Amendment Act (Chapter 8:07) in Section 15 (5) permits the operation of laws that grant majority status at an age earlier than 18.