Child marriages have become a cause of concern in Zimbabwe particularly in the rural areas, with poverty being singled out as its main cause.
By Owami Sithole
Residents of Anadale Farm in Shamva expressed their concern on challenges of early marriages through a stakeholder convention facilitated by Humanitarian Information Facilitation Centre (HIFC) and Real Open Opportunities for Transformation Support (Roots), a local Non-Governmental Organization that seeks to curb the prevalence of child marriages in communities.
In an interview with this reporter, one of the girls, who is a victim of early marriages narrated her ordeal saying she was forced into marriage soon after completing her primary school studies.
“ I thought marriage would transform my life but all had to come back to me , I got married after my parents passed away while staying with my grandmother who was unable to look after me. It was after my parent’s death that life became miserable ,” said Chipo* a 17 year old girl.
Due to lack of proper counselling and parental care, she finds herself living a miserable life not by choice but as a result of the challenges that she has endured when she was staying at a relative’s house.
“I got married at my early stage of puberty and I was a virgin. I later on discovered that I was HIV positive, now I have a baby, and I’m an HIV patient,” she said.
Chipo however remains thankful to Roots’ awareness programmes which she says have helped her to accept her status.
“Through the awareness programmes from Roots I have accepted my HIV status, Roots helps us to access our medication easily,” she said.
Another victim of child marriages, (Rudo) not her real name urged all school going girls to take their education seriously.
“I thought getting married was the solution to my problems , I got married at the age of 16 but now am 19 , I suffered cervical contractions and having a baby at that age was not easy. I therefore urge all other girls to concentrate with school, and to stay away from sexual activities,” she said .
According to the Zimbabwe Multiple Indicator Monitoring Survey, 21% of children, mostly girls, are married before the age of 18. These marriages are not taking place in a vacuum. According to the survey, poverty, cultural and religious practices are the key drivers of child marriages in Zimbabwe.
Fiona Chirodza, Behavioral Change Facilitator for Roots said child marriages are disturbing the lives of many girls across the country.
She said Roots serves as pillar of strength for young girls providing awareness and precautions to young girls and women .
Roots is carrying out outreach programmes which seek to promote economic and social justice among young people in peri-urban, rural and mining communities.
Beatrice Savadye, the director of ROOTS said that their mandate is hinged on a human rights based approach for sustainable livelihood development for the rural, mining and peri-urban communities.
“We have conducted several outreach programmes around the country and in Shamva this is our second outreach programme , we are involved in local dialogue and capacity building on issues affecting youth empowerment and sexual and reproductive Health, as well as empowering the girl child” said Savadye.
She went on to say their work is predominantly on grassroots to higher levels.
“We working on advocacy work at both local and National level with the Local leadership like Chiefs , Parliamentarians , Ministry of Women Affairs Gender and Community Development, National Aids Council and Zimbabwe National Family Planning in maximizing the knowledge on issues of early marriages, sexual reproductive health, cautions to take when one come across any type of abuse ,”She said .
“The Zimbabwean constitution states that a child is a boy or girl below the age of 18, so we urge society to take full responsibility and respect children‘s rights. No child should be married under the age of 18. We also serve as solidarity centre providing economic and psycho social support to victims of child marriages and gender based violence she said .