Youth have the power to end child marriage
As governments prepare to attend the next session of the UN Human Rights Council, Yemurai Nyoni, a youth activist from Zimbabwe, tells us why youth are critical change makers and what the Human Rights Council should be doing to end child marriage:
In Zimbabwe, youth led the charge to criminalise child marriage
In August 2014, a group of youth activists, including the Children’s Parliament, got together to call for the government to criminalise child marriage in Zimbabwe. We built momentum by starting a petition calling for the amendment of the Marriage Act (which as it stood stated that a child of 16 could get married with parental consent) and sent it to the Chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs and the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs.
Our strategy was to inundate the Chairperson and Minister with emails – and it worked!
The Chairperson supported our initiative and a Member of Parliament agreed to champion the issue in Parliament. A motion was tabled in Parliament as a result and we gave ongoing support and information to Parliamentarians so they could engage in an informed debate. This was a fantastic step, however, it wasn’t enough to change the law.
One of our partner organisations – Roots Africa – took a bolder step and supported two survivors of child marriage to challenge the government in court on the need to amend the Marriage Act. They won the case and set a new precedent for strategic litigation to criminalise child marriage in other countries in the region. Unfortunately, since the passing of the judgement, an Act of Parliament has yet to be passed to criminalise child marriages. We are still working hard to make sure this next step is taken.
There’s still more to be done
This is just one example of how youth can drive change in laws and policies at the national level. However, we need mechanisms and spaces to leverage the power of youth advocacy at the national, regional and global level. Two things that will help:
- We need a human rights framework that supports young people’s participation in politics, including as candidates for political office, with clear targets and lines of accountability for signatory governments to make this happen. This will grant young people a direct route to influence laws and policies which reflect their needs.
- The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights should issue continued guidance to governments on how to create legal frameworks that criminalise child marriage. This should be done alongside survivors of child marriage.
We must work closely with survivors of child marriage and young people to espouse and uphold a human rights framework which is future fit.