ZET Blog: Marriage in Zimbabwe

Trinity Project staff in Bulawayo work tirelessly to provide vulnerable women and children across Matabeleland with the legal documents they need to access socioeconomic rights and services – including education, healthcare and welfare which are their basic human rights.

As part of this work, they visit local homes and communities and learn more about the people we support and the circumstances that left them unregistered and unprotected. We have noticed that often, women and children are left vulnerable and unable to register because of their marital status.

Unmarried women or women in unregistered marriages often have very little legal protection in terms of property, land, inheritance or divorce settlements. Children from unmarried parents often have to go through far more loops and proofs to get their births and citizenship registered, leaving them unable go to school, hospital or vote. As a result, many women find comfort in marriage certificates and registration. However, this is often not prioritised, or even when marriages are registered, due to patriarchal legislation and customs, this is not always enough.

For example, project officers supported Esinathi in the first few months of this year. She travelled a lot for work, but one day when she returned from South Africa she found her husband with another woman. When she complained, her husband kicked her out of their home! She appealed to her husband and his family to reclaim her rightful place in her home and to split their property equally, as she believed was her right after a marriage ends.

Unfortunately, although they both paid into the house costs and accounts, all the deeds and receipts were in her husband’s name. Esinathi had no choice or legal rights, and lost all her property due to this mistake with no legal recourse or complaint to take. In Zimbabwe, marriages do not automatically entitle you to a split of property and women must be encouraged to jointly register all property, homes and other assets to protect them in such circumstances.

Another good example of the impact of registering marriages is the case of John and Tanyaka (name changed). Marriage is an important institution in African culture, and there are certain social norms and practices which must be followed to consider a couple married in the traditional sense

Tanyaka and John met and fell in love, so agreed to be married with the consent of their elders and moved in together. Soon after, Tanyaka became pregnant and had a happy, health baby boy. However, Tanyaka’s parents discovered this and rejected the marriage. The couple had cohabited and had a child before a traditional or legal ceremony had been conducted, and before lobola (bride price) had been paid to the bride’s parents. As such, the marriage was never formally registered with the registrar, or fully accepted by the maternal relatives and so accepted culturally either.

Tragically, Tanyaka became ill and passed away while her son was still an infant. When John went to register his child’s birth, he discovered a number of challenges. Since he was not married to the mother, he could not register a child alone. Since the mother had passed away, he needed the child’s maternal relatives to support the registration and they refused until he had paid lobola.

John was forced to provide his wife’s family with $1000 and two cows, working overtime to procure the money with a newborn baby and grieving for his wife. After he had paid this, he approached them again to try and get his son registered and yet they still refused. Desperate, John reached out to Trinity Project whilst officers were visiting his village. We were able to provide legal advice and assistance, and eventually we are happy to report that his maternal relatives understood the importance of registration, and supported John in getting his son registered.

It is essential that people in Zimbabwe are made properly aware of their legal rights, and that whether they choose to marry or not, they know to register themselves and their children, to properly enshrine their rights and entitlements. Trinity continues to work tirelessly to support vulnerable families already in this position, and raise awareness amongst institutions and communities to help protect people in law and in practice for years to come.

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