Harare, Zimbabwe, 31 July 2015 – “We have a crisis on our hands. The UN estimates that 15 million girls experience child marriage each year. That is more than the entire population of Zimbabwe. We must move from vulnerability to voice and leadership. Africa is young and full of innovation. This energy must be harnessed to ensure that we have lasting solutions”, said Ms. Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, the AU Goodwill Ambassador on Ending Child Marriage in Africa at the national launch of the AU Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa which held at the Harare International Conference Centre, under the theme “We are Girls, not Brides”.
Child marriage predominantly affects girls who live in poor and rural communities. The likelihood of girls being married off as children stems largely from the lack of education and poverty. Zimbabwe has one of the highest rates of child marriage in Africa; with about 31% of Zimbabwean girls being married before their 18th birthday and another 4% before they turn 15.
Speaking at the launch, His Excellency, Dr. Mustapha Sidiki Kaloko, the AU Commissioner for Social Affairs noted that the launch of the AU Campaign to End Child Marriage in Zimbabwe comes at a time when H.E. Cde Robert Mugabe is the sitting Chairperson of the African Union and furthers His Excellency’s commitment not just to the theme of the African Union for 2015, i.e. Year of Women Empowerment and Development towards Agenda 2063, but also to issues affecting women and girls across the continent. This has also been evidenced in the way His Excellency was able to galvanize other Heads of States into adopting the African Common Position on Ending Child Marriage during the June 2015 Assembly of AU Heads of State and Government.
The Republic of Zimbabwe is the 8th African Nation to launch the AU Campaign following national launches in Ethiopia, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar and Uganda. The Zimbabwean launch of the campaign also comes at a critical time when the country was recently under the global lens following a statement by Prosecutor-General Mr. Johannes Tomana on the age of sexual consent. This sparked a public outcry and accentuated the need for a nationwide campaign that tackles the harmful practice of child marriage with the focus of highlighting the consequences of allowing the perpetuation of the practice.
In her keynote address, Dr. Grace Mugabe called on all Zimbabwean daughters to fight against the sentencing of girls to a lifetime of violation. She pleaded with girls not to be threatened into being married off but to strive for a better life; making education their first love. The First Lady also called on the Ministry of Justice to harmonize all laws on the age of marriage to 18 years as stipulated by the Constitution and apply stiffer penalties and sentencing of violators. “Child molesters, pedophiles, and rapists should not be allowed to get away with lenient sentences such as community service. Child marriage is a tragedy for the girl child, her unborn children and her country’s development”, she affirmed. Dr. Mugabe also received the petition of the child parliamentarians and called on all Cabinet Ministers to jointly work towards a national action plan on ending child marriage in Zimbabwe.
The event was attended by the Zimbabwean Senate President, Hon. Edna Madzongwe, the Speaker of Parliament, Hon. Advocate Jacob Mudenda, Members of Senate and Parliament, Cabinet Ministers who all joined their voices to call for an end to child marriages. Speaking on behalf of the UN agencies, the Resident Coordinator and Country Director for UNICEF, Mr. Reza Hossani called on all stakeholders to reject social norms and break the cultural silence that continues to hide these violations of the rights of vulnerable children.
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