The past few months in Zimbabwe have been extremely heart-breaking with the news of the untimely death of a 14 year old girl at a Marange church Shrine. The death being caused by child birth. A picture spread on social media of a young girl, with a belly you could clearly see was too heavy for her small stature. At the time, there was outrage from many individuals as well as NGOs spreading awareness and comments under the campaign #JusticeforMemory (it was later revealed that the girl’s name was actually Anna) and #EndChildMarriages.
Found this clip. Not sure who did it so we can acknowledge. Anna "Memory" deserves justice. #JusticeForMemory #StopChildMarriages pic.twitter.com/sc3S67MSKj
— Lighthouse News Zimbabwe (@LHNewsZimbabwe) August 24, 2021
In our little teapot country child marriages have always been a concern. Think about the stories you have heard from friends and family regarding young girls being married off. According to a study made by GirlsNotBrides about 34% of girls in Zimbabwe are married before they turn 18 years old. That is about 1 in 3 girls who are not able to fully live out their childhood in Zimbabwe! With the stories I have heard from several people, this number in 2021 (during a pandemic) is most probably increased. The girl child is in trouble, young girls in rural areas, orphans and those in societies that do not look down on child marriages are most vulnerable. Girls are unable to fight for safe sex, they are unable to receive adequate sexual reproductive health care such as contraceptives etc, they are unable to go to school and are prone to physical abuse because of the power dynamics in these ‘marriages’ . The situation is appalling and it really makes you wonder what is causing marriage to underage girls. I believe that amongst the many reasons such as socio-economic hardships and religious beliefs, we are to blame. Yes, you and I should be blamed.
Another case of child abuse in Mutare.A 23years old married relative allegedly impregnated a 13yrs old niece. Lets come together & protect the girlchild @zenzele @benmahaka @Madambosszim1 @shapaz01 @UNESCO @GlobalFundWomen @CODETMUTARE @wozazimbabwe @HonMachakaire @KirstyCoventry pic.twitter.com/uw4ZKs2n5q
— Emmanuel Machikwa (@EMachikwa) November 2, 2021
The law in our country is somewhat clear on child marriages as of 2016 going forward. There were some dubious judgements in the past, which would leave anybody in 2021 very confused.
The accused was charged with having sexual intercourse with a young person (a fifteen year old girl)…received the following sentence….24 months of imprisonment…. the remaining 8 months further suspended on condition that the accused marries the complainant
-S v Ivhurinosara
However, with time, decisions in the courts have shown that marriage to an underage girl is clearly against the law. The Constitution (the most superior law of the land), in section 26 explains that children are not pledged in marriage and in section 78 it further explains (in case you missed it) that every person who attains the age of 18 has the right to found a family. In 2016, the Constitutional Court in Loveness Mudzuru and Ruvimbo Tsopodzi v Minister of Justice, Legal & Parliamentary Affairs N.O and Others, declared that it was unconstitutional for boys and girls to marry if they were under the age of 18 for civil or customary marriages. The very essence of marriage is a union entered into FREELY by two CONSENTING ADULTS. Children are not allowed to drink alcohol, they cannot enter contracts and they sure as heck shouldn’t be wives or husbands before their prime. Section 81 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe also explains that every child has the right to be protected from economic and sexual exploitation. The act of lobola where the girl child is married off to somebody for economic gain of her parents or relative is exploitation. The Domestic Violence Act [Chapter 5:16] explicitely mentions that child marriages are a crime, and any person found guilty of such crime,
shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding level fourteen or imprisonment for a period not exceeding ten years or to both such fine and such imprisonment”
More recently, the Marriages Bill that combats and outlaws child marriages remains to be passed into law. This stalemate continues to derail the move to ending child marriage.
It perplexes me how any individual of society can look at the marriage of young girls as anything but abuse. Children, like Anna, do not marry these men freely. It is extremely unfortunate that there are congregants that believe their religious leaders to the extent of consenting and enabling paedophilia. In such sects, it is the parents who encourage the abuse of their own children, from coaching children on what to say in the presence of authorities to never attaining birth certificates thus making it difficult for authorities to verify the age of the minor.
With all these laws in place, the enforcement of such laws is still so little and a real disservice to the girl child. There are many stories where families we personally know consent to child marriage-either actively or passively. We turn a blind eye to paedophilia, but are shocked and vocal on Twitter and in WhatsApp groups. So many of us have memories of being at family functions and being told not to dress a certain way or be overly friendly towards a certain uncle. Why is it that we can identify that something is wrong, but we fail to address it? What is required of us as citizens is to ask ourselves why we condone this clear infringement of a child’s right to be a child. Does being ostracised by the congregation mean so much, that we are willing to abuse children for it? Also read, Child Rape and Sexual Abuse: The Unspoken Concern…
This is a community dilemma that affects us all, how can you as an individual ensure that a child below the age of 18 is able to finish and enjoy their childhood, and have a fighting chance to make a future for themselves?
- As a community we can lobby for changes in society. We can persuade lawmakers to criminalise child marriage and set proper, enforceable mandatory minium sentences
- If you know a child in a situation of this nature, educate her on her rights and urge her to report this.
- There are organisations that are there to help girls who leave child marriages to get back on her feet through entreprenurial and social support. Shamwari YeMwanasikana is one such organisation, special thanks to the the Advocacy and Influence Officer, Rudo Magwanyata who took some time to explain the actions in place to assist the girl child.
- A person who knows of the abuse can report the crime to the police by making a tip off to the victim friendly unit who accept these with high confidentiality
- Make noise online #EndChildarriages, follow movements and contribute where possible
- Donate your time, money or necessary resources to these organisations helping young girls to get back on their feet.