Chiefs start solemnising marriages

Vimbai Nyemba
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AROUND 250 traditional chiefs are set to begin solemnising customary unions in terms of the Marriages Act after completing training, in a move expected to help eliminate forced and child marriages.

The Marriages Act, passed in 2022, empowers traditional chiefs to act as marriage officers for customary unions within their districts.

In addition to solemnising marriages, they will also be responsible for verifying the eligibility of couples and ensuring both parties meet legal marriage requirements.

This includes upholding the minimum legal age for marriage and preventing forced unions.

The Act also allows traditional chiefs to oversee the lawful distribution of inheritance.

In an interview with The Sunday Mail, Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Permanent Secretary Mrs Vimbai Nyemba said training of more chiefs was ongoing.

“At least 250 chiefs attended the 2024 Traditional Chiefs Conference in Bulawayo, which was aimed at enabling them to perform their duties as marriage officers and handle inheritance-related concerns efficiently,” said Mrs Nyemba.

“We intend to conduct further targeted capacity-building sessions in the provinces to reinforce the knowledge imparted.”

Section 9 of the Marriages Act states that “every chief shall, by virtue of his or her office, and so long as he or she holds such office, be a marriage officer for a customary law marriage in the district in which he or she holds office”.

The Justice minister, it reads, “shall ensure that every chief is certified as competent to carry out the duties of a marriage officer for the purposes of solemnising marriages according to customary rites.”

Customary marriages follow established customs and practices of the specific tribe or ethnic group the couple belongs to and often involve exchanging symbolic items, seeking blessings from elders and fulfilling specific cultural requirements.

Chiefs acting as marriage officers, Mrs Nyemba said, will assist in eradicating harmful cultural practices.

“Chiefs hold a unique and revered position within our communities, serving as custodians of tradition, culture and governance.

“Their decisions and actions have far-reaching implications for the wellbeing, livelihoods and aspirations of the people they lead,” she added.

“Chiefs, as marriage officers, enhance their capacity to uphold the principles of consent, equality and justice in the marriage process, thereby promoting harmonious relationships and strengthening the social fabric of our nation. This development will ensure the elimination of harmful cultural practices such as forced marriages, child marriages and pledging of girls, among others.”

Couples that register their marriages have protection under the law on property rights, maintenance and inheritance.

“Chiefs in Zimbabwe can help tackle early child marriages by raising awareness, collaborating with legal authorities, challenging cultural norms, providing support to vulnerable families, and monitoring and reporting cases,” Mrs Nyemba said.

“Their traditional authority, community ties and leadership positions can create a safer environment for children, especially girls, and help break the cycle of poverty caused by early marriages.”

She added that by certifying chiefs as marriage officers, the Government was enhancing the upholding of human rights in the country.

“Traditional chiefs have historically regulated community affairs, including family or community disputes and marriage counselling, amongst other issues.

“Today, they continue this role as marriage officers while operating within the framework of national laws.”

Collaboration between traditional leaders and legal authorities, she added, was essential in ensuring marriage practices comply with legal standards and do not breach human rights.

The Marriages Act grants chiefs the authority to solemnise marriages according to customary rites within their respective districts, meaning they can officially conduct customary marriage ceremonies.

Section 9(2) of the Act empowers chiefs to also oversee the legally mandated distribution of inheritance within their districts, in accordance with the country’s law.

The Act, however, clarifies that the chiefs’ authority is limited to customary marriages and their role does not extend to handling divorce cases.

Source: Sunday Mail