Joseph Madzimure and Wallace Ruzvidzo
The age of consent to marriage, age of sexual consent and property rights took centre stage on Monday as stakeholders attending a civil society organisations’ consultative meeting on the Marriages Bill called for amendments to the draft before it is tabled in Parliament.
Participants also called for enhanced engagement with the public so as to allay fears and misconceptions that have been created through social media platforms.
Speaking at the meeting in Harare, Women’s Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprise Development Permanent Secretary Ambassador Rudo Chitiga said the civil society raised a number of issues which need to be amended in the draft before it comes into law.
“As you can see and you have watched on social media, there is a lot of talk on the Draft Marriages Bill which has not even been gazetted, but there is a lot of talk and misinterpretation.
“There is anger even at churches, people are praying against Section 40.
“Some civil society organisations raised concerns on the implications of Section 40 of the current Draft Marriages Bill.
“There has been an ongoing debate about the implications of Section 40 of the current Draft Marriages Bill. This Bill is yet to be gazetted and it must be emphasised that it is a draft Bill, which is subject to alterations,” she added.
Section 40 of the Marriages Bill recognises and protects the rights of unmarried people in cohabiting relationships.
To offer protection of the parties’ property rights when they decide to end the relationship, civil partnerships will pertain to adults who are cohabitating owing to a romantic relationship.
The proposed age of consent to marriage is 18 years, while the age of sexual consent is 16, a misnomer which was pointed out as needing urgent redress by participants to the consultative meeting.
The ministry, Ambassador Chitiga said, was committed to engaging all players to ensure they contribute to the draft.
“We thought as a ministry, before we lose everything, let’s bring everyone together and hear their views from a legal point of view, a human rights point of view, from a moral point of view as well as from social and rural perspectives on this,” she said.
She said some civil organisations were engaging in outreach programmes to educate the people on the draft Bill.
“These organisations are already having outreaches and talking about the Bill.
“Quite a clear message was that we need to educate our people, we need to educate women on the Bill.
“ We also need to understand the whole architecture of marriage; Marriage Act, Matrimonial Causes Act, Maintenance Act, Inheritance Act.
“All these are not known and women are not aware of them, so there is need for awareness and that awareness will help us receive the new Bill,” added Ambassador Chitiga.
Parliamentary Women’s Affairs committee chairperson Chido Madiwa said there is need for public awareness campaign countrywide to ensure everyone contributes towards the Draft Marriage Bill.
“The draft Bill has already passed, awaiting gazetting. After gazetting, it has to be tabled in Parliament and then Parliament will take it for public hearings. After the public hearings, they will consider the views of the people.
“With the nature of the Bill, it would need adequate time,” said Cde Madiwa.
The Marriages Bill, 2018, repeals and replaces the current Customary Marriages Act (Chapter 5:07) and the Marriage Act (Chapter 5:11).
There will be one Act of Parliament governing marriages in Zimbabwe and the new Act will also update the law in line with the Constitution.