Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court ruled Wednesday that neither boys nor girls can legally marry under the age of 18, even in unregistered, customary or religious unions. Previously, the Marriage Act allowed girls to be married at the age of 18 and boys to be married at the age of 16 and did not address a minimum age for customary unions. The head of the People’s Democratic Party, Tendai Biti, filed an application [AP report] along with two women from Harare, now 20, who say they were forced to marry at the age of 15. They argued [SABC report] that the sections of the Marriage Act allowing child marriage were discriminatory and violated children’s rights as laid out in the 2013 constitution. The ban is effective immediately.
In recent years, child marriage has been criticized in many countries. In November Guatemala’s congress approved [JURIST report] legislation to raise the legal age for marriage to 18, previously 14 for girls and 16 for boys. Malawi enacted [JURIST report] the Marriage Act last April, a move that Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] welcomed as “an important step toward preventing child marriage.” In September Bangladeshi officials approved [JURIST report] the Child Marriage Prevention Act of 2014, requiring a two-year jail term for any person who marries a girl under the age of 18. However, in October, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was considering [JURIST report] changing the country’s law once again to allow marriage at 16, a move HRW urged against. In December 2011 HRW also called on the government of Yemen to increase [JURIST report] the minimum age for girls to enter into marriage.