Women parliamentarians have been urged to be wary of pertinent issues relating to the welfare and protection of women in the proposed Marriage Bill before it is passed into law.
The remarks were made by constitutional law expert Professor Lovemore Madhuku, Monday while addressing a Women’s Parliament Caucus on the Marriage Bill.
Prof Madhuku said the bill, does not address such key issues as the age of consent, marriage and inheritance issues, issues of property rights in marriage and guardianship rights of parents.
The Bill, he said, which seeks to consolidate marriage laws into one act, poses a danger of not dealing with some marriage laws as specifically as it should.
He explained that for the parliamentarians to be able to make sound decisions concerning the Bill, they must understand certain sections provided for in the Constitution of Zimbabwe.
He urged the parliamentarians to make reference to Sections 17, 26, 78, 80 and 81 which have made provisions for women to exercise their freedom in the society.
Prof Madhuku reiterated that if women are not protected by the law in their marriages, they would not be able to stand up and speak out on other pertinent issues that affect them.
“If the law does not protect women at the level of marriage, automatically they are stripped of all confidence to speak out on parliamentary issues. It is thus the duty of members of parliament to demand clarity on these issues to be able to advocate for gender equality for fellow women,” said Madhuku.
“The Marriage Bill is silent on specifications on the age of consent to sexual relations although it specifies on the age of consent for marriage which is 18 years. For the protection of the girl child, such issues need to be challenged,” he said.
Prof Madhuku explained that the Bill is silent on marriage and inheritance as well as guardianship of children by father and mother.
“Women have the same rights as men. There is a need for regulations which specify how these rights are exercised. At times women lose custody of children in the event of a separation and they sometimes lose all property when their spouse passes on-all these are pertinent issues which the bill is silent on,” said Prof Madhuku.
What Parliamentarians need to understand, Madhuku said, is that if they allow vague bills to be passed as laws in the August house, a lot of people might be disadvantaged.
“The Bill outlaws child marriages but is not clear at all on unregistered customary law marriages. For registered customary law marriages it stipulates that the age of consent is 18,” said Madhuku.
“However, in our culture, we do understand what customary marriage entails. As Parliamentarians, there is a need to advocate for specifications. For example, you could lobby that it specifies that no one under the age of 18 can be married under the unregistered customary law,” he added.
He said the civil partnership part of the Bill seeks to clarify on how people who have been cohabiting for a certain period of time can legitimately share property they acquired together.
He also mentioned the proposed Bill decriminalises deliberate transmission of HIV/AIDS.