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Zimbabwe: Former child brides win case to make child marriage illegal

Photo credit: ROOTS Africa |Mutambadarius photography

As of yesterday, child marriage is no longer legal in Zimbabwe. After months of deliberations, the country’s Constitutional Court has listened to the appeals of Loveness and Ruvimbo, two former child brides, and made marriage under the age of 18 illegal.

At only 16, Loveness and Ruvimbo were forced into marriage. A few years later, they decided to seek justice – not only for themselves, but for the thousands of girls in Zimbabwe who are married off every year. According to UNICEF, 31% of girls in the country are married before 18.

With the support of ROOTS, a Girls Not Brides member, and Veritas, a legal think tank, Loveness and Ruvimbo have successfully led a legal campaign to declare existing legislation unconstitutional and recognise 18 as the minimum age of marriage, in line with international standards.

Zimbabwe already made child marriage illegal in 2013 when it adopted a new constitution setting the minimum age of marriage to 18 and calling on the state to ensure that “no children are pledged into marriage”.

Yet the Marriage Act clashed with the constitution’s new provisions by allowing girls as young as 16 to marry with the consent of their parents. The court’s decision is a welcome first step towards addressing a legal discrepancy that has left many girls vulnerable to child marriage and without the full protection of the law.

The ground-breaking ruling “comes as a milestone in the campaign to end child marriages” and to protect the rights of girls, said Beatrice Savadye, Director of ROOTS. The organisation said it hoped Parliament would take quick action to align legislation with the constitution and called on all Zimbabweans to respect this decision.