Despite efforts and campaigns against child marriage in Zimbabwe, the issue is still a major cause for concern. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) “State of the World’s Children” Report (2015), the area most-affected by child marriage in Zimbabwe is Mashonaland Central which leads with 50%.
In second place is Mashonaland West 42%, Masvingo 39%, Mashonaland East 36%, Midlands 31%, Manicaland 30%, Matabeleland North 27%, Harare 19%, Matabeleland South 18%, while Bulawayo has the least prevalence with about 10%.
Clever Ndanga, Media Liaison Officer for the Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe (ACCZ), attributes the high rate of child marriages in Mashonaland to poverty. Ndanga argues that in provinces where there are less economic activities, child marriages tend to be prevalent because in most cases, parents are giving their children in marriage as a poverty-reduction strategy.
“Child marriages are high in Mashonaland because of poverty. Most parents who give their children to be married to older people – it’s usually because of poverty. And because there is not much happening in terms of economic activity in areas like Mashonaland central, west and east, child marriages are high in those areas,” he said
On the other hand, human rights expert Simbarashe Namusi attributes the high rate of child marriages in Mashonaland province to the high number of Vapositori in the area. Namusi says most of these indigenous churches have ‘dubious’ doctrines which fuels child marriages.
“Child marriages are more prevalent in Mashonaland because the province is home to many indigenous churches like Johanne Marange and Johanne Wechishanu which uphold certain doctrines. For instance, some elders in these indigenous churches may announce in church that the ‘spirit of God’ has said sister so and so should be given in marriage to a certain older man and no one disputes this because it’s the ‘Spirit of God’,” he said.
Namusi says organisations like the ACCZ should help fight child marriages by bringing members of indigenous churches who have infringed the rights of children to book.
But who is a child according to the law?
The United Nations Convention On The Rights Of The Child defines a child as a person below the age of 18, unless the laws of a particular country set the legal age for adulthood as younger. In fact, Section 81 of the Zimbabwean constitution states that: “Every child, that is to say every boy and girl under the age of eighteen…”
Sixteen year-old Linda Nokoro (not her real name) from Kuwadzana Extension is a mother. She explains how she ended up with a baby: “It all happened when I was fifteen while doing my form three studies at Kuwadzana High school. I went to a party with my boyfriend, who is now the father of my child, and ended up getting drunk and spending the night with him at his place, where I lost my virginity. The following morning I went home and my parents sent me back to my boyfriend`s house who then tried to reason with them since I was not pregnant. But my family refused to understand. They threatened to sue him on statutory rape charges (since he was over 18 years), had he refused to accept me as his wife,” she said.
Linda added: “With not much of a choice Teddy (her boyfriend) chose the latter and here we are with our first child, Tadiwanashe.”
Linda’s plight is an example of how most cases of children who end up in marriage are occurring. Most children are forced into marriage by elders in communities, in situations where most of these elders happen to be their guardians.
Gender expert Violet Nkatazo, says child marriages are a societal menace and something needs to be done, especially in rural areas. She states that child marriages are rampant in rural areas because that is where certain contentious cultural practices are prevalent.
“It is sad to note that child marriages are mainly prevalent in rural areas such as Manicaland in the Honde Valley, in Muzarabani which is in Mashonaland Central and in Mashonaland East, as well as in some religious sects such as Vapostori,” said Nkatazo.
Added Nkatazo: “What is worrying is that as a country we have a Constitution that protects children against child marriages, but what is lacking is enforcement. We are among the 41 countries in the world with an unacceptable rate of child marriages where girls enter into marriage below the age of 18, and this is really sad.”
On the other hand, Justice for Children Trust Programme Director and child activist Caleb Mutandwa, says what is needed now is to align laws such as the Customary Marriage Act and the Domestic Violence Act with the new Constitution to fully protect girls against child marriages. “We now have a new Constitution and nothing has really taken effect to the extent that several laws — including those that deal with children’s rights — have not been aligned with it (Constitution).
“For example, customary marriage laws still do not prescribe the marriage age of a girl or boy, and the age of sexual consent for girls. That is one thing that is still missing in our laws,” he said.
Actress and activist Rutendo Tapiwa concurs with Mutandwa and Nkatazo`s sentiments, adding that the affected people have no voice and there is need to address this scourge.“Child marriage jeopardizes girls’ rights and stands in the way of girls living educated, healthy and productive lives. The affected people have no power to change the status quo and are vulnerable such that they will always languish in agony if nothing is done,” she said
Meanwhile, The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) report published in 2012 titled “Marrying too Young: End Child Marriage” highlights that by 2020, some 142 million girls will be married by their 18th birthday if current trends continue.
This article was written by Best Masinire. Best is a freelance journalist and musician.
Main image from www.financialgazette.co.zw