When the news of the death of a 14 year old girl during labour hit the streets of Zimbabwe in mid-August, there was an immediate outpouring of anger and disappointment. Annah X who was married to a 26 year old man, had died during labor and pictures of a her small frame carrying a baby was enough to make anyone cry.[1] Following her death, her parents had allegedly arranged a secret burial and had already offered her 9 year old sister to replace her so that they could keep her husband in the family. Annah’s plight, as gutrenching as it may be, is one that many girls in Zimbabwe know all too well – the issue of child marriages.

According to the UN, 1 in 3 girls in Zimbabwe are child brides.[2] Many of these girls are forced into marriages because of religious beliefs but also the economic situation in Zimbabwe has forced many families to marry off their daughters in exchange for money and cattle which they receive as lobola (dowry).[3] The economic situation has meant that many families also cannot afford to send their children to school and so they would rather marry them off. [4]

By not taking clear actions to protect girls from becoming child brides, Zimbabwe is violating its duties under many international treaties. Firstly, Zimbabwe ratified the UNCROC and under Article 28 the state recognizes that all children must have access to education. From as little as 5 years old, many girls are taken out of school so that they can get adequate training to become wives and this impedes their right to education for example, learning to cook and clean. In contrast, boys are allowed to continue to pursue education even up to high school level. This means that although there is no discrimination imposed on girls from the state, parents do discriminate against girls and deprive them of their right to education.  As this occurs, the state does very little to ensure that girls can exercise the full enjoyment of their right and thus violates Art 28 of UNCROC.

In addition, In Art 34 of the UNCROC, states undertake to protect children from sexual abuse. Many girls are manipulated into thinking that marrying a 20-50 year old man is acceptable and so some of them do it consensually so as to bring honor to their families. This is especially the case if they come from a family where childs marriages are the norm. By initiating this, their parents knowingly or unknowingly go against the law.  According to Section 78 of the Constitution, the minimum age for marriage is 18 and forced marriages are prohibited. The age of consent for sexual acts is 16 years which means that many of the girls who are married off do not have full legal capacity and, therefore, cannot consent during sexual activities. [5]  As a result, the marriage will be illegal and the sexual activities between the minor and the adult amount to statutory rape.

Unfortunately, the government tends to not enforce this especially when child marriages occur in religious communities because this would create tensions that could lead a reduction in political support from the religious groups in elections.[6]  Furthermore, some judges have used personal views about child marriages to acquit perpetrators. [7] It is only when public outrage is so severe that the government steps up to hold people accountable. This is how the police got involved when Annah’s story came to light. This begs the question of how many girls who  we do not know died like Annah? How many times did the police turn a blind eye to some girls who needed their help? How many more girls will be married off and denied their right to education and a quality life? How many more girls should die for the state to take steps to protect the girl child?

Child marriages in Zimbabwe are rampant and the government has a duty to ensure that girls get access to education and are not subjected to sexual abuse. For now we can only hope that religious groups understand the implications and risks that child marriages pose to girls after having learnt of Annah’s unfortunate plight.


[1]Shingai Nyoke, ‘Zimbabwe arrests after child bride dies giving birth at church shrine’ BBC 19/08/21 available at <https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-58270976>

[2] Zimfact, ‘Child marriage: One in three Zimbabwean girls married by 18’ Zimfact.org available at <https://zimfact.org/child-marriage-one-in-three-zimbabwean-girls-married-by-18/>

[3] Girlsnotbrides, ‘Policy brief: ENDING CHILD MARRIAGE IN ZIMBABWE: GAPS AND OPPORTUNITIES IN LEGAL AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORKS’ available at < https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/documents/507/PLAN_18_policy_brief_zimbabwe_final.pdf >

[4] ibid. 5

[5]Art 70 of Criminal Law (Codification and reform) act [Chapter 9:23]

[6] Nyoke (n 1)

[7] Girlsnotbrides (n 3 ) 6