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A call for Government to enforce policy to eliminate harmful practices that affect children

African Child Day

Press Statement

Harare – 16 June 2022: Today we commemorate the Day of the African Child (DAC) themed “Eliminating Harmful Practices Affecting Children: Progress on Policy and Practice since 2013”. The African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (the Committee), established under Articles 32 and 33 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (the Charter) recognises the importance of the DAC as an advocacy tool for raising awareness on the Charter in promoting children’s rights and their welfare.

As we commemorate DAC in Zimbabwe, it is important for the Government to enact laws and policies to protect children from harmful practices that violate children’s rights such as girl child marriages, pledging to appease avenging spirits, and other violations of children rights affecting orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs) and those with disabilities such as child labour, lack of access to education and to healthcare. Policy inconsistencies such as the mismatch in legal age for marriage and age of consent have contributed to violation of children’s rights, especially the girl child.

ActionAid Zimbabwe (AAZ) is elated that a landmark court ruling in May 2022 by the Zimbabwe Constitutional Court set the legal age of consent for sex to 18 from 16, a judgment AAZ and partners welcomed as teen pregnancies were forcing hundreds of girls out of school. The court struck down as unconstitutional provisions in the Criminal Codification Law that set the age of consent for sex at 16. This conflicted with the Marriage Act which set the age for marriage at 18. Following the court’s decision, the Minister of Justice and Parliamentary Affairs is obligated within 12 months from the date of the judgement (May 2022) to enact a law that protects all children from sexual exploitation in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.

This court ruling will result in the criminalisation of sex with underage girls, and it is envisioned that teen pregnancies and girl child marriages will be reduced and eventually eliminated. To reach this goal, the government should also put in place accessible youth-friendly sexual reproductive health (SRH) services such as access to contraception, information on infections and consequences of unprotected sex, as well as family planning.

AAZ applauds Government’s efforts to enact the National Disability Policy (NDP) in 2021 which seeks to address the heightened marginalisation and discrimination of persons with disabilities including children with disabilities. As we commemorate the DAC, the NDP is a steppingstone towards building the foundation for the respect, protection, and promotion of rights of children with disabilities. Nonetheless, more work needs to be done to ensure the full implementation of this policy.

AAZ and partners have over the years been running campaigns against child marriages and the elimination of harmful cultural practices such as girl child pledging, which thrived because of the lack of legislation to protect them, policy inconsistencies, and limited political will to implement some of the policies in place. AAZ, therefore, calls upon the Government of Zimbabwe to:

1. Speed up the enactment of a law that protects all children from sexual exploitation following the Constitutional Court ruling on the age of consent.

2. To ensure enforcement and implementation of all laws and policies that protect children, especially girls, children with disabilities, orphans, and other vulnerable children.

3. Put in place policy and support mechanisms for youth-friendly SRH services to ensure youths access these without any discrimination.

For more details please contact:

ActionAid Zimbabwe Country Director, Joy Mabenge: Email or Mobile +263 772904479