Thandeka Moyo Bulawayo Bureau
Members of the public have proposed stiffer penalties for perpetrators of child marriages, as well as parents who give their blessings to such unions.
Participants at a parliamentary hearing on child marriages held at the Small City Hall in Bulawayo on Monday said those who marry minors should be treated as rapists.
Enkundleni/Padare Men’s Forum official Mr Ziphongezipho Ndebele said lawmakers should also dig into the causes of child marriages.
“Firstly, it’s important that the age of consent be the same with the age of majority,” he said. “We cannot let youths have sex at 16, yet saying they can legally get married at 18.
“We also want child marriages to be criminalised so that perpetrators are charged, prosecuted and jailed. Perpetrators include parents who accept bride price for under age daughters and those who force their pregnant daughters to move in with men responsible for their pregnancies.”
Ms Patricia Tshabalala, a child rights activist, said the age of consent should be raised.
“I think the age of consent must be raised to 18 so that we protect our children who for a long time have suffered sexual abuse in Zimbabwe,” she said. “Girls aged 16 are still children and exposing them to sex at that age jeopardises their development and future.”
Teenagers who attended the meeting urged MPs to consult young people as they were directly affected by child marriages and the age of consent. One of them said MPs should conduct some of their hearings at schools.
Another one said those affected by child marriages should be given a chance to go back to school. Dr Ruth Labode, who heads the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health and Child Care, said it was difficult for minors to deal with pregnancy.
“It is true that a girl aged 16 and below cannot handle pregnancy as her pelvis and uterus would not have fully developed,” she said.
“Teenage pregnancies are risky and many girls suffer ruptured uterus or get obstetric fistula.”
Zanu-PF senator Cde Monica Mutsvangwa, who was part of the delegation, said parliamentarians were debating on the Sadc model which bans child marriages in the region.