In the lead up to International Day of the Girl, Girls Not Brides will be highlighting the change-makers who are making a difference in the global movement to end child marriage. Share your stories by using #ItTakesAMovement.
Parliamentarians have an important role to play in the fight to end child marriage and none more so than the Hon. Jessie Majome, a Member of the Zimbabwe Parliament.
In Zimbabwe, approximately 1 in 3 girls (31%) are married before the age of 18 and a further 4% before 15. Girls from poor backgrounds and those in rural areas are particularly vulnerable being married early. There are also discrepancies between what is said in Zimbabwe’s Constitution “no person may be compelled to enter marriage against their will” and the state should ensure that “no children are pledged into marriage”; the Marriage Act which allows girls of 16 to marry with their parents’ consent (the minimum age for boys is 18) and the country’s Customary Marriages Act which does not specify a minimum age of marriage for either sex.
Committed to aligning the laws and getting 18 set as the legal minimum age for both girls and boys to marry, Ms Majome travelled to Ghana to take part in a series of events organised by the Parliamentarians for Global Action (PGA). There she learnt about what had worked in other African countries in similar situations, the challenges people had faced and how they had overcome them.
Inspired by what she had learnt, Ms Majome immediately arranged a meeting with the Hon. Emmerson Mnangagwa, Minister of Justice and Vice-President of Zimbabwe on her return to Harare. The meeting was designed to secure his commitment to changing the marriage laws and as a result of their discussion Ms Majome was invited to submit a draft Bill. Speaking about her work to end child marriage Ms Majome said:
“Women in Africa are vocal – we are raising our voices and not letting age-old [practices] stand in the way. The future of African women is going to be very exciting; let’s work together to end child, early and forced marriage, and ensure that our girls attain their highest potential.”
In collaboration with civil society, Ms Majome has prepared the Elimination of Child Marriages Bill which she will shortly present to the Vice President and then to Parliament. She also established a PGA National Group in parliament along with a Sub-committee on Gender and Population, both of which aim to increase parliamentary support to end child marriage and to encourage the government to design a national strategy. As well as these initiatives, Ms Majome persuaded 21 Zimbabwean MPs to sign the PGA’s Parliamentary Declaration to End Child Marriage, which placed the number of Zimbabwean MPs’ signing the document among the highest in Africa.
In January 2016, the Constitutional Court ruled that the Marriage Act was unconstitutional and recognised 18 years as the legal minimum age of marriage. Two months later on International Women’s Day, the Vice-Secretary of the PGA’s National Group, the Hon. Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, MP presented a motion, seconded by Ms Majome, on the Unlawful Practice of Child Marriage. The motion celebrated the Court’s landmark judgement and prompted 70 Zimbabwean male MPs to sign a petition distancing themselves from child marriage and making a personal commitment to ending the harmful practice.
As a result of Ms Majome’s actions, the Vice-President and Minister of Justice, the Hon. Emmerson Mnangagwa, has committed to amending both marriage acts to reflect the constitution.
There are still challenges ahead of course but with parliamentarians like Ms Majome working to end child marriage those can be overcome.
In the past five years, a number of countries have strengthened their laws and/or adopted national strategies to address child marriage and supported married girls. For more information, read our latest report: “It takes a movement: reflecting on five years of progress towards ending child marriage”.
In the time it has taken to read this article 40 girls under the age of 18 have been married
Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18
That is 23 girls every minute
Nearly 1 every 3 seconds