Anything for us without us is not for us - Child Marriage is a human rights violation (Part 1)

    Anything for us without us is not for us. This resonates well with the current situation whereby the majority of efforts to end child marriage are not involving children in a meaningful way. Child marriage remains at a staggering 32% (ZDHS). In this article, I focus on the current situation regards the international, regional and national frameworks that address the issue of child marriages.

    What are the International Frameworks on children?

    Child Marriages violate the rights of children that are enshrined in International Protocols among them, The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which, in Article 1 of the Convention, includes gender based violence, directed towards a woman (girls) because she is a woman. While, child marriages, which is a form of SGBV affect both boys and girls, girls are at a greater risk.

    The United Nations Convention for people with disabilities, states that women and girls with disabilities face significantly more difficulties and inequalities and in particular, are at a greater risk both within and outside their homes of violence, abuse and exploitation. They are often married off early as families do not see the economic benefit of them remaining in school.

    International Population frameworks for Action on Addressing Gender based violence states that, poverty, HIV spread, peace and security will not be attained until violence against women and girls ends as it is not only a human rights violation but should be considered as a public health priority(UNFPA).

    Zimbabwe also ratified the International Covenant on Economic and Cultural Rights. Sexual reproductive health is an integral part of the right to health enshrined in article 12 of this convention. Child marriages violate the rights of children to both health and education in this treaty and United Nation on the right of the child (CRC),

    CRC articles related to SGBV

    • Children are all persons under the age of 18. (Article 1)
    • The best interests of the child constitute the primary consideration for all decisions about an individual child. (Article 3)
    • The right to family life is essential for children; children should not be removed from the care of their family except as a last resort and where this is in their best interest. (Article 5, 9, 18)
    • Prevention, as well as response, is a key strategy when it comes to SGBV (as well as other forms of abuse, neglect, violence and exploitation). (Article 19)
    • Children need to be protected from all forms of sexual abuse. (Article 34) (UNHCR, 2016:517.)”.

    What are the Regional Frameworks on children?

    The African charter on human and people’s rights, African Charter on the right on welfare of the child, AU Agenda 2063 concur that child marriage is a human rights violation of children. Ending child marriages is one of the targets of the AU Agenda 2063. They aim to end child marriages in all its member states by 2063.

    Zimbabwean Constitution and Child marriages

    The Constitution of Zimbabwe has a rights based approach regards the rights of children. In the Constitution, the State is the primary duty bearer and bears the principal responsibility to prevent and respond to SGBV. The rights holder therefore has a right to be protected from SGBV including Child Marriages.

    Zimbabwe Policies and Child Marriages

    The National Gender Policy, The National Action Plan on ending Rape and Sexual Abuse, Gender Based Violence Strategy, National program on GBV

    Global initiatives to End Child Marriages

    Ending Child marriages is one of the Sustainable Development Goals target of The United Nations. Below are some of the ambitious initiatives by the United Nations to ensure the end of child marriages by 2030.

    • UN and development partners are supporting the harmonized cash transfer that is reaching more than 300,000-vulnerable people including vulnerable children.
    • UN and Development Partners are supporting the Health Development Fund. This cushions vulnerable communities as well as children
    • The Spotlight Initiative which was launched in 2019 is meant to guarantee sexual reproductive health rights of the girl child.
    • UN is exploring how it can effectively engage traditional leaders who are the custodians of culture and customary laws.
    • UN is exploring how fathers can be effectively engaged to play an active and positive role in parenting. Fathers’ involvement has been linked to higher school achievement and improved mental health for both boys and girls. This could have a positive impact on ending child marriages.

    Regional Initiatives to end child marriages

    SADC should be applauded for the brave steps and mechanisms it has put in place to fight the scourge among them, the appointment of a Goodwill Ambassador for ending child marriages and a Special Rapporteur on child marriages in 2014. This was followed by a push for National Strategies to combat the problem of child marriages in 2015 (Centre for Human Rights: 2018).

    National initiatives to end child marriages

    The Government of Zimbabwe has shown commitment to end child marriages. Below are some of the steps they have taken apart from being signatory to international and regional protocols and declarations which clearly state that child marriages is a human rights violation.

    • 16th of March 2016, Members of Parliament signed a ‘Pledge to Protect the Girl Child’.
    • Zimbabwe's new Constitution stipulates that “no person may be compelled to enter marriage against their will.
    • There are some strategic institutions in place to deal with SGBV, including ending child marriages. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises is responsible for gender mainstreaming coordination, promotion of women and girls rights, administration of the Domestic Violence ACT including the establishment of the Anti Domestic Violence Council. The Anti domestic Violence Council is Responsible for Gender Based Violence prevention and response. The Ministry has direct interface with organizations like UNWomen to promote these issues at international level.
    • The Gender Commission has oversight over the Ministry of Women Affairs, Community, Small and medium Enterprises regard all gender equality and women empowerment issues.
    • The Parliamentary committees on justice, legal and parliamentary affairs is responsible for regulating marriages and elimination of child marriages
    • Parliament Portfolio committee on women’s affairs is also concerned on child rights including the elimination of child marriages which is a human rights violation of children.
    • The victim friendly unit under the police and the victim friendly courts are meant to protect children and ensure justice in instances of SGBV which includes rape.
    • Laws are being aligned to the constitution to protect children and one of the pressing contentions is to ensure that the age of consent to sex currently 16 is aligned to the Constitution legal age of 18. #LetThemBloom

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