Concerned church leaders have declared to support efforts to fight against increasing child marriages, which remain a major public health and social development challenge for the country.

Addressing delegates at an event convened by Plan International for religious leaders to share their role and discuss their commitment to ending the problem, Christian Voice Zimbabwe president, Tapfumaneyi Zenda yesterday said the church had been turning a blind eye to the problem and now was the time to join hands and end child marriages.

“We will launch massive campaigns throughout the country and raise awareness on this scourge,” he said.

The social scourge is being perpetuated by, among other drivers, religious and cultural practices which oppress the girl child.

An estimated one in every three girls gets married before their 18th birthday, while there are reports that even children as young as 12 were being married off.

Over 3 000 girls have so far dropped out of school due to child marriages.

“A rural girl is twice at risk [compared to] her urban counterpart and a situation analysis conducted by Plan International in 2011 established that in some of the most affected places, some brides are as young as 12 years,” Plan International official, Tino Hondo said.

Director for the Zimbabwe National Council for the Welfare of Children, Taylor Nyanhete said church leaders should embrace child-related concerns

“For us, from the child rights sector, we want church leaders, who are also community leaders, to embrace issues of children. They should create spaces for these children,” he said.

Harmonisation of laws related to child marriage was now said to be of utmost urgency.

While the Constitution has clearly specified that age of marriage and sexual consent is 18, many laws, including the Marriages Act, still have to be aligned to the new provisions.