Child marriages not necessarily forced
BY Melody Chikono
Nyasha sits down with her daughter on her lap, tears trickling down her face. Her boss has not been treating her and her child well since she started working as a maid in Chinhoyi town.
It is graduation day at Chinhoyi University and Nyasha can’t help but admire her age mates. If only she could be part of them. She turned 18 a few days ago.
Having grown up at Jim farm in Chinhoyi, Nyasha got married at 11, was childless for five years in which she suffered all kinds of verbal, physical and emotional abuse from her husband. Her parents told her to endure it all because she is a married woman.
When she finally got pregnant and was thinking happiness had finally found her, her 30-year old husband married another minor girl from the same farm area and chased her away.
Her life in the city had taught her of the disadvantages of marrying early through peer educators who were making rounds in her area. Although she cannot help wondering where these people where before or during her ordeal, she remains grateful to them.
She had grown up seeing her friends getting married early, divorcing and getting married again but she has not married again because of the ‘abuse and heart break.’ He was a man she had grown up being told was her husband and when he came for her she did not complain because that was the order of her world. She has never once seen a man being jailed for marrying a young girl.
While all other causes of child marriages have been talked about there is a factor that seems to have gotten lesser attention despite playing a significant role in the promotion of child marriages. The issue is one of child marriages on farms among children themselves.
The myth that all child marriages are forced while very popular needs to be interrogated.
“In our compound all we knew was that as girls, school was not important but if you are lucky to go to school you would always get married. We did not see anything wrong with that. My late mother taught me how to handle a husband from a tender age and she would tell me men liked younger man and it has always been like that. I only ended up being in school as a girl through donors who came to our areas saying they supported girls going to school and they paid for us. But we were not taught how or why it was bad for us as young girls to get married early,” she narrates.
Child marriages in Zimbabwe traditionally were common in compound areas especially on farms and nobody bothered about it. Even now where people have resettled it is still common practice in those areas.
Statistics from a Unicef 2015 report show that Mashonaland Central has the highest number of child marriages at 50% followed by Mashonaland West at 42%, Mashonaland East, 36%, Midlands at 31%, Manicaland 30%, Matabeleland North 27%, Harare 19%, Matabeleland South 18% and Bulawayo 10%.”
Mashonaland Central is largely composed of rural and resettlement areas.
A resettled farmer at Victoria Farm in Chinhoyi, Morris Mkwati says when they were resettled on that farm child marriage was one custom. They are afraid their children might join the tradition.
“Children are marrying children, the marriages do not last and the cycle goes on and on. I have noticed that they give attention to donors or visitors who come for various projects. I would be glad if these people would teach them to desist from marriages .Some of them, especially the parents of the children, are very violent if one tries to teach them so one ends up letting them be,” he said.
The Constitutional Court in January 2016 handed down a significant judgment declaring the long enduring practice of child marriages to be unconstitutional.
Women and Law in Southern Africa Research Trust (WLSA), Director Slyvia Chirawu says although the country promulgated the law against child marriages under the Domestic Violence Act which makes child marriage a criminal offence , there has been no arrests or prosecution so far as normally child marriages takes place in secret.
Chirawu says there is need to raise awareness and change attitudes of communities towards child marriages and make member gatekeepers of their own society.
“There is also need to raise awareness and to change attitudes of communities towards child marriages. Also make community members gate keepers so that they can report cases. So we need to ensure that the message on child marriages spreads throughout Zimbabwe,” she says.
Chirawu also said society is playing a significant role in promoting child marriages as they have normalized the abnormal thus promoting child marriages.
“And I would like to say that no girl goes ‘willingly’ into a marriage because a child is not capable of giving consent to marriage. It is society which has normalized the abnormal. And poverty can never be an excuse because even some families that are not very poor are also marrying off their girl children. This is because of patriarchy and die-hard negative attitudes versus the girl child,” she states.
She however appealed for stronger enforcement and stricter terms on offenders of the law.
“The Con Court passed a very important judgement on child marriages in January 2016. SADC has also come up with a model law to end child marriages. The law is certainly one of the strategies that can be used to combat child marriages and to that end the Ministry of Justice is working on having one marriage act in place which will outlaw child marriages and also address other concerns in relation to marriages in general.
An estimated 34% of girls in Zimbabwe get married before they turn 18.