CSO stakeholder consultative meeting on the Marriages Bill

The Centre for Applied Legal Research (CALR) with support from the European Union-United Nations Spotlight Initiative and Unicef Zimbabwe coordinated and hosted two day Civil Society Organization stakeholder consultative workshops on the alignment of legislation to the Constitution. The focus area was on the Marriages Bill which seeks to harmonize the Marriage Act [Ch 5:11] and Customary Act [Ch 5:09].

 

The workshop was held at Rainbow Towers Hotel from the 30th to the 31st of August 2019. CSOs represent a vast and diverse group that will be affected by the operationalization of the Bill. This is due to the fact that the Bill was gazzetted and received with a widespread outcry over its implications ranging from cultural conservative critics, to women’s rights and Christian oriented communities as well as children’s rights movements. The invited stakeholders were drawn from all these sectors so as to come up with an inclusive marriage law which will balance the interests of a diverse group.

 

Giving her opening remarks, Ms Kanako Mabuchi the head of UN Resident Co-coordinator’s Office submitted that:

 

“This stakeholder consultations is a platform that seeks for CSOs to participate and influence the law making process of the Marriages Bill …  discussions to focus on if the bill undermines or encourages equality…”

 

“Does the bill safeguard best interests of children?” asked Kanako Mabuchi. She further elaborated that laws are nothing if not implemented and that marriages should have much meaning to everyone. Discussions on the CSOs stakeholder consultations will culminate into the development of a position paper, which will be tabled before parliamentary portfolio on legal and parliamentary affairs.

 

Mrs Aminata Ruwodo (CALR Projector Coordinator on Alignment of legislation to the Constitution )  opinioned that it is useful to adopt the best international and regional standards in coming up with a sound Marriages Bill such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Model Law on eradicating child marriage and protecting children that are already in Marriages.

Stakeholders also highlighted that there is a need for the Bill to protect the family unit in light of the civil partnerships’ clause, they also alluded that the Bill must speak to what a “family unit” is since a “family unit” is key in marriages.  

 

Professor Madhuku presented on the background, overview and critique of the Marriages Bill vis a vis relevant Constitutional provisions. His main emphasis was that the law making process in Zimbabwe is largely influenced by the political elites and the CSO elites who represent the interest of various groups in Zimbabwe. The Bill is merely a proposal which can be adopted or struck off before it is promulgated as the law of the land.

 

Professor Madhuku first highlighted on issues that the Bill fails to cover; these include

– age of consent

– marriage inheritance

– marriage and property rights in marriage

– guardianship rights of the father and the mother

 

According to Professor Madhuku, the Bill maybe referred to as a consolidation Bill. Over 90 percent of what is in the bill is already there in the current Marriages Act [Chapter 5:11] and the Customary Marriages Act [Chapter 5:07]. However, he added that Marriages are not confined to recognition and registration but also extend to all aspects such as inheritance, property rights, administration of estates and other matters that are immediately connected .

The Marriages Bill is not conscious about religious marriages” added Professor Madhuku. The root of this comment is justified by an example of how the Muslim community is left out in the proposed bill.

 

The topical concerns centered on civil partnerships, there has been a lot of talk about these relationships, though the Bill leaves questions arising from civil partnerships to the courts to clearly define what a “civil partnership” is considered to be. There is need to consider the intention of the legislator when interpreting this clause because it sought to remedy a defect hence this clause was designated to protect the majority of women who found themselves vulnerable on the basis of having not contracted any recognizable marriage.

 

There was also a proposal to deal with civil partnerships outside the Marriages Bill since its inclusion in the Bill sparked the debate of co-existence with recognized marriages added Ms Bonzo Brings from Women and Law in Southern Africa.

 

Furthermore, the necessity  of a clear definition regarding civil partnerships was pointed out, as it stands the Bill leaves the power of definition from the Courts identified Abigail Matsvai, the Director of Zimbabwe Women’s Law Association.

 

Valeria Zviuya from The Legal Resources Foundation hopes that the Marriages Bill will cover and ensure that the rights of children are protected and also that the Bill will put an end to child marriages. She also presented on the fate of marriages that are void from the onset but however become voidable during the subsistence of that marriage.

 

Some of the stakeholders highlighted that leaving the age of consent for sexual intercourse at 16, may lead to early child pregnancies therefore children may be vulnerable and get married. One of the major components associated with the age of consent is related to protection of children that are already married.The Bill ought to provide protective guidelines for children in those circumstances

 

Stakeholders recommended for the following to be included in the proposed Bill:

 

– civil partnerships should not interfere with marriages (civil/customary marriages)

– there is need to have a central system of registration for marriages (accessible e-system)

– the Bill should clearly speak to unregistered customary unions

– stakeholders

are advocating for headmen to be added as marriage officers

– there is a need to have a digitalised central registry.

– Magistrates should have an oversight role over marriages registered by traditional leaders

– the Bill should fully address concerns related to child marriages

– the age of consent for intercourse should be advised in the Marriages Bill and the Bill must be clear on what

‘child marriage’ is

– there is need to have provisions that embody child rights campaigners