Regulate churches to curb child abuse- Judge
Leonard Ncube in Hwange
BULAWAYO High Court judge Justice Maxwell Takuva has called for the crafting of laws that set strict requirements for the formation of new churches including regulating them following the prevalence of cases of child sexual abuse and early child marriages.
This comes amid concerns about the prevalence of sexual abuse as well as child marriages. Some churches have been blamed for perpetrating sexual abuse and early marriages.
According to the Zimbabwe Gender Commission’s latest preliminary report of the national inquiry into sexual exploitation and abuse of young girls and into child marriages, religious and cultural norms are key drivers of child marriages.
The inquiry was conducted between May and August last year, with the final report set to be published soon. The inquiry established that there are common and general drivers of child marriages and exploitation across the country’s 10 provinces.
Child marriages are illegal in Zimbabwe and Government pledged to eliminate them by 2030 in line with target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Speaking during the official opening of the 2023 Legal Year on Monday, Justice Takuva who is on a High Court circuit in Hwange, said while citizens have fundamental human rights as enshrined in Part 2 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, some rights can be limited if they violate other people’s rights and freedoms.
He said Section 60 of the Constitution thereof states that every person has a right to freedom of conscience which includes freedom of religion or belief.
The judge, however, said it should be noted that the enjoyment of the right can be limited as provided for in section 86 of the same Constitution.
“The legislature, in my view, should consider introducing a draft law on religious freedoms and worship to discipline some behaviour and excesses of certain religious denominations. The new law may provide for the requirements for the registration of a new religious organisation,” said Justice Takuva.
“It would be of some assistance in my view to have as a requirement for the establishment of a new church, that its leaders must at least hold a certificate in theology.”
Justice Takuva said he was of the opinion that the State should not interfere in the exercise of the activities of religious groupings, but direct and discipline them to protect the society.
He said such measures are necessary in terms of fighting against child marriages. In May last year, the new Marriages Act became law, bringing all marriage laws together, and making all marriages equal, while also making it clear that child marriages are totally banned with those arranging or solemnising such marriages facing five years in jail.
Early child marriages are prohibited in the country in terms of the law and the New Marriages Act also specifies that partners in any marriage union should be aged 18 years and above.
Justice Takuva said early child marriages and child sexual abuse are a danger to society as the practices violate children’s rights.
“The question then becomes whether or not it is desirable for the State to regulate the activities of certain religious groups and churches in this country. In my view, the State should step in to regulate the activities of those religious groups or institutions with obscure purposes for example those which promote child marriages and child sexual abuse,” he said.