Right to marry no less controversial

Joram Nyathi Spectrum
Initially I wanted to express my penny’s worth of thoughts on the vexed and vexing topic of indigenisation, an area of our economy I am very passionate about, but an area, it now appears, where the World Bank and the IMF, working in collusion with local revisionists and apostates, have assumed control of the ship of state. It is a subject I hope to dwell on next week, God willing.

A new matter suddenly loomed so large it could not be deferred, it being the Constitutional Court ruling which clarifies the age at which a boy or girl can legally contract a marital union. Constitutionally, that age is now 18 years. This is consistent with the Legal Age of Majority, itself one of the first milestones for Zimbabwe’s women at independence. Except this time there appears to be a grotesquery of trying to lift an elephant by its tusk.

It is not clear to me which problem Zimbabwe, or women in our society, are trying to solve despite the noise about ending child marriage. If we were to start from the beginning, the problem is that people have sex before they are married, they don’t have sex because they are married at a young age.

This fact of life has nothing to do with the court ruling but exposes everything wrong with our attitude towards sex and how we are complicating things further in purporting to liberate the girl child. We have banned marriage before the age of 18 years but in the same breath acknowledge that the same girl child is sexually active at the age of 10. And they indulge in sexual activity as soon as they get a chance, whatever the reasons and causes. Society is tolerant of this, including churches whose responses to the whole condom debate has been muted.

The real fight, apparently, is not about sexual abuse of the girl child. It’s more to do with liberalising sexual activity, that is why there is this whole debate about packing condoms in the lunch box of school kids or somewhere in the satchel so that our little Benny and Betty can have real life experiments about sex before marriage.

Commenting on the judgment, Veritas Zimbabwe, the organisation which promoted the court action, said: “This is a great day for gender equality, women’s rights, children’s rights and the fight against poverty.”

For its part, the court made sure the ban is universal, stating: “Section 78(1) of the Constitution permits of no exception for religious, customary or cultural practices that permit child marriage, nor does it allow for exception based on the consent of a public official, parents or guardians.”

For a good measure, the Constitutional Court went further; “The rights to marry and found a family are rights to be enjoyed by adults and not children. In effect, a person aged below 18 years has not attained full maturity and lacks capacity to understand the meaning and responsibilities of marriage.”

Let’s take it that the prohibition of any exceptions to the ruling is a total surrender of our national uniqueness to foreign jurisdictions because ours is “primitive” as one organisation helpfully reminded us. We are inherently foolish and immature, just like the under 18s, to know what a mature woman is like.

The logic around the “rights to marry” is no less controversial. It insinuates that there is something adult-like in a marriage which a person who is under 18 years is physically and mentally incapable of doing or knowing. Count up to 18 and boom, the epiphany of adulthood!

Yet that same immature person can indulge in sex, a central and core necessity of marriage, so long as they don’t call the relationship a marriage. In other words the girl who is saved from a pagan culture, which in its primitiveness often frowns upon sex between or with young persons, is being ushered into an international jurisdiction where she can now freely enjoy the benefits of a married woman so long as no one calls it such. This period sexualised marital dormancy can be as long as eight years, during which time our liberated girl can have equally as many relationships. Is that what the legislators had in mind?

I don’t know to what extent the distinction between marital sex, adultery and fornication matters. What is evident is that we are creating a nation where the law turns a blind eye to promiscuity by the adolescents while society in general provides the support services by way of condoms and come Sunday morning we are all hypocritically happy Christian soldiers marching to church.

What are you talking!

Where I come from girls start being women the day they are born. They do everything their mother does – cooking, fetching water and firewood and washing. Except for the budget, every girl by the time she graduates from O Level she is a mother. The only thing her mother does which she is officially not permitted to do is sex. But she does it anyway. And when she gets pregnant, she can happily get married in our own cultural way, pursue the white man’s bookish formalities later with her husband.

All of which begs the question: what is it the judges mean when they declare “. . . a person aged below 18 years has not attained full maturity and lacks capacity to understand the meaning and responsibilities of marriage”?

Surely they couldn’t be alluding to sex! And my experience of life here in Harare shows that a majority of the divorce cases involve persons married when they are 24 years and over and go for white weddings, most of them purporting to be virgins. Soon everything turns sour when reality dawns that the moon has no honey.

Back to the boys. Perhaps science has proved this: I am not aware of boys around the age of 18 who indulge in sex because they are thinking of marriage and the responsibilities the girl already knows so much about. For a majority of the boys sex is about conquest and fun. What this constitutional clarification simply does is to say you can enjoy sex without responsibility. The responsibility lies with the girl who faces the risk of a pregnancy.

But since they can’t legally marry before they are 18 years, we are to assume the liberated pregnant girl must take her pregnancy to her parents to shoulder responsibility until she can legally get married.

By the way what’s the penalty for a 25-year-old man who impregnates a 17-year-old girl child whom he can’t legally marry but can safely enjoy sex with? In the event that it’s custodial sentence and he is locked away leaving behind a pregnant girl who turns 18 years next month, what happens to the girl? Who takes care of the pregnancy and subsequent baby? Having crossed the bridge into adulthood, is the young woman still bound to the jailed man or she can start new relationships since her legal circumstances have changed?

At the end of the day I don’t understand what’s being celebrated in this judgment to the extent that this is being called a victory for the girl child. I don’t want to believe as a society we think it is ok for the girl child to indulge in promiscuous fornication so long as she uses protection. And that the only thing society and the law find offensive in all this is getting married before 18 years.

Really, victory? So we can safely retire to bed knowing the law is protecting our little girls from molestation by primitive local men before they are 18 years but are fair game to entertain tourists with their bodies?

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