Zimbabwe's Constitutional Court has delivered a landmark ruling outlawing all forms of child marriage. Rights activists say the ruling is a victory for a country where a third of girls are married before they turn 18-years-old.
Former child bride Loveness Mudzuri took the government to court last year, arguing that sections of the marriage law allowing minors to marry were discriminatory and violated children's rights as contained in the Constitution adopted in 2013.
They are not old enough to vote, not allowed to drink or buy cigarettes, but in the eyes of the law these minors have been deemed old enough to be married off and to start families. The Marriage Act has allowed girls aged 16-years-old to marry while boys had to be 18 years of age.
Customary laws and unregistered marriages did not set a minimum age.
A Plan International video documents how girls some as young as 13-years-old are married off to escape poverty but end up in a worse cycle of deprivation and abuse.
Culturally girls have been married off for financial gain
Child Rights and Protection Advisor for Plan International Zimbabwe, Tholakele Ndhlovu says: “We have seen them lose their right to education. They drop out of school and others suffer the health consequences. They lose their potential to earn and not only do they suffer even their own children do."
Following an application by a former child bride Mudzuru, the Constitutional Court on Tuesday struck down section 22 of the Marriage Act; it ruled that no person under 18 years of age may enter into any marriage, including unregistered customary unions and those arising out of religious rites.
Loveness Mudzuru's lawyer, former finance minister, Tendai Biti says: “I want to commend the Constitutional Court for a very bold far reaching decision that is unprecedented. You don't find this in South Africa; you don't find it anywhere where jurisdictions are considered more progressive than ours”.
After the legal victory and a daunting task of changing long held attitudes, child marriages remain rampant in some religious sects.
Culturally girls have been married off for financial gain through the bride price, and in extreme cases as payment for family offenses.
“In the community it’s going to take time for people to change, but now that we have a ruling it is a step in the right direction”, says Ndhlovu.