RESIDENTS of Beitbridge, a town on Zimbabwe’s border with South Africa, have demanded that the current Marriages Bill be amended, to allow courts to sentence people who marry underage girls to 10 years in jail, up from the current five years.
Speaking during a consultative meeting at Vhembe High School in the border town on Tuesday, the residents said the proposed five-year imprisonment was not deterrent enough to offenders.
They also demanded that section 40 of the Marriages Bill which recognizes civil unions be scrapped, saying it was threatening the marriage institution and the country’s efforts in the fight against HIV and Aids.
“We welcome the decisions by Parliament to involve citizens in making the laws of the country.
“However, it is sad to note that we still have people in society who are marrying underage girls. My proposal is that the current punishment of five years’ imprisonment for such crimes should be reviewed to 10 years,” said Pastor Dave Mukandatsama.
He said deterrent sentences will scare parents from marrying off their children at a tender age for religious or customary reasons. Regina Ndlovu of the Legal Resources Foundation, said the issue of child marriages is a
perennial headache in Zimbabwe.
“As Zimbabweans we should act decisively against those who want to destroy the future of our children,” Ndlovu said.
Pastor Martin Muleya said law enforcement agents should descend hard on people who sexually violate children. Other residents proposed that the age of sexual consent, which is 16 years, be raised to 18 years.
The new Marriages Bill, which brings together laws governing Civil and Customary marriages, proposes that chiefs and magistrates be marriage officers.
Under the current set up, only a few selected magistrates are eligible to solemnize marriage unions.
There were mixed feelings on the proposed section 53 of the new law, which criminalizes the willful transmission of HIV and Aids among couples.
Some residents said it was difficult to handle such cases, while others suggested that those caught on the wrong side of the law should be jailed for 20 years.
Chairperson of the consultative meeting, Nkulumane legislator Advocate Kucaca Ivumile Phulu, said after collecting people’s views they will compile a report for discussion in parliament.