ZIMBABWE – The Constitutional Court has ruled that with effect from 20 January 2016 marriages of girls under the age of 18 are not only illegal but also criminal.
In a judgement which was written by Deputy Chief Justice Luke Malaba and delivered by Justice Florence Ziyambi who was leading the full bench on Wednesday the court said under 18 year marriages are unconstitutional.
“The application has succeeded and with effect from 20th January 2016 registration of marriages under the age of 18 years, customarily or religiously is illegal and it is inconsistent with the constitution of Zimbabwe,” reads part of the judgement.
The matter was brought before the courts by human rights lawyer Tendai Biti, who is also a member of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.
Biti argued that Section 22 of the Marriages Act of the old constitution that recognizes 16 years as the legal age of consent violates Section 78 of the new supreme law.
“The court has passed what I can describe as a revolutionary judgement for women and girl children; the declaration that whether at customary law or in terms of religious rights or any other cultural practices no person below the age of 18 man or woman can get married,” said Biti soon after the ruling.
“I think it is an amazing judgement and the court should be congratulated for taking such a bold decision.”
“I had fears that the court would leave that to the legislature but sometimes when the legislature is in differences the courts play their part and today the Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe played its part.”
He added: “So, I am very proud to be part of this history, and I know that the struggle for women’s emancipation is far from over but this is a far reaching decision and a very important one.”
Biti was representing two girls, Loveness Mudzuru and Ruvimbo Tsopodzwa, both of whom were married before the age of 18.