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Tougher penalties for marrying off underage girls – Chiefs

Chiefs in Kariba district have resolved to impose stiffer fines on people who fail to report, marry off underage girls in a bid to curb cases of child marriage.

This would be complementary to criminal law processes as communities come up with measures to reduce the growing menace.

Indications are that most cases in the district are going unreported as shown by low reported cases to the police which do not remotely correspond with high number of girls dropping out of school.

At least 107 girls dropped out of school by June and 54 cases were of underage girls being married.

Only two cases have been reported so far this year and are at various stages in the criminal law process.

Chiefs Negande, Msampakaruma, Nebiri and Mola resolved to impose punitive penalties for not reporting child marriages at a recent workshop in Siakobvu organised by the Tony Waite Organisation.

Chief Nebiri said while traditional selection of brides for chiefs involved identifying a girl at birth, advances to marriage would only be possible when she reaches 18 years.

“As chiefs, traditionally we get a woman befitting the position of a chief,” said Chief Nebiri.

“We are against child marriages and as chiefs we have resolved that anyone who marries an underage girl or hides such a marriage, will automatically be fined.”

Chief Negande said such cases go unreported and are secretly dealt with by families without involving authorities including traditional leaders.

To end such cases, Chief Negande said, there was need to have people going before the chief and have punitive fines imposed.

“It will be an issue resolved by chiefs in the same way a person who tends their field on a sacred day,” said Chief Negande.

Kariba district development coordinator Mr Shepherd Marweyi said the family was key in ending child marriages.

“Everything starts at the family level. If we don’t get parents that accept money or agree to have underage girls married or failing to report a clear case of rape in terms of our laws, then we will not be able to end the problem of child marriages,” said Mr Marweyi.

A roadmap has been developed where chiefs would engage their head men by the end of this month with these in turn, meeting villagers before a report back by the end of November.

Some parents were reluctant to report such cases questioning what they would benefit from having the man arrested while they remained with the child to pick up the pieces.

Tony Waite Organisation director Mrs Ellen Vengere said girls should remain in school as it offered them a realistic chance of making a better life for them.

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