By Elia Ntali
As she was growing, her desire was to be able to attain her education and support her family. The dream to become a corporate lawyer was brutally eliminated in her scope as her blood married her off.
With oozing tears of sorrow, a dejected teenager is in a marriage, itself a facade. Her parents danced to the whims of money.
Child marriage is not only a violation of a girl’s rights; it also seriously compromises efforts to reduce gender based violence, advance education, overcome poverty and improve health indicators for girls and women.
Early or forced child marriages often result in early sexual activity and therefore early childbearing and because their bodies are not yet fully developed, these young adolescents are at risk of suffering life threatening or debilitating conditions as a result of childbirth like obstetric fistula and hemorrhaging, or even death.
A lot of cases involving child marriages have not seen the light of the day due to threats issued by perpetrators and also due to religious beliefs.
Within some sections of the Apostolic Churches girls are more vulnerable to contracting life threatening diseases as they are often given away in marriage to much older men who have an elevated chance of being HIV positive or having sexually transmitted infections (STI) because of prior sexual experience.
Traditional practices among other issues such as poverty have also been cited as a major contributor to early child marriages as girls are married off as a way of appeasing avenging spirits, and what is of concern is that some are married off at a tender age of twelve years.
Like one young girl Rumbidzai (14) in Murambinda who was pulled from school in order to marry a 56 year old man in line with her father’s Church doctrine, Rumbidzai’s personal development is stunted. She is left with a few that is if any negotiation skills and therefore has limited decision making power in her matrimonial home.
Rumbidzai is one of the many girls who find herself in polygamous marriages and is dependant on her husband to survive. Early marriages or forced marriages have deprived these girls the opportunity to enter labour market therefore denying them the opportunity to uplift themselves and their families out of poverty.
As Rumbidzai says she was forced into marriage by her parents who happen to be members of an apostolic sect that has most of its congregants in the sane set up.
“ I was forced by my parents to marry this man, what could I have done as my parents were behind it and as I speak I am the third wife here and I am now used to it” said the heavily pregnant Rumbidzai
The worst scenario that these young women face is that they are denied access to clinics or hospitals as it is against the church’s doctrine.
More than 80% of them deliver at home whilst those with the courage of making it to hospitals for deliveries will have to confess their transgression at church.
The issue of family planning or child spacing is non existent in the men’s vocabulary as they are forced to have two children within the shortest space of time and this has seen some of them taking family planning pills behind their husbands, practices which are against the church’s doctrine.
In some instances the men contract STI’s and they clandestinely seek treatment at local clinics a scenario described by a nurse at Murambinda Mission hospital as disturbing considering that their spouses are not treated.
“It is disturbing as they come here secretly without the knowledge of their wives, so we have been urging them to come along with their spouse of whom some are cooperating whilst some claim that they are not married” said the nurse who spoke on condition of anonymity
With the HIV prevalence rate at 15% it is also a cause of concern as innocent young women are at risk of contracting the disease as a result of multiple partners that the husband has, this will in turn hamper any efforts to achieve zero tolerance against HIV.
However, it is against this background that organizations such as the Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe (ACCZ) has taken the initiative to spearhead the campaign with the help of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in efforts to educate people on the dangers of early marriages.
“We had a Bishops council in December and we passed a resolution whereby we said instead of confronting we need to unite and create dialogue, we have since started awareness programmes” said ACCZ president Archbishop Johannes Ndanga
“We are engaging Bishops and we need dialogue and awareness through out the provinces and we are doing it with the help of UNFPA” he said
Bishop Ndanga said some churches have responded positively to the calls to end child marriages and forced marriages
“Some churches are responding positively and I am happy to say the Johanne Marange sect has even built a big school and have even started to send their children to school, which is a welcome development” said Bishop Ndanga
Speaking recently at a men’s symposium against early child marriage hosted by Roots a non governmental organization which advocates against the practice, Chief Seke said the practice leaves a trail of destruction to the development of the girl child and to everyone concerned.
“Everybody is affected, it has a wide effect on the communities and as then custodian of culture we need to educate our people, the girl child is disadvantaged and it will affect her through out her life, the effects are devastating ” said Chief Seke
Chief Seke also called for the realignment of the law citing an example of a 16 year old involved in sexual encounter with a 20 year old boy before marriage, if the issue is reported to the police and brought before the courts and if the girl is deemed to be a willing partner then there is no case.
“If the law can exonerate the 20 year old boy what are we saying? There is to synchronize the laws and come up with something that protects the young girls” he said
While some of the victims of early child marriages might not be able to give accounts of what they endured during the heinous practice, the few who have been courageous enough to bare their souls, say early child marriages are evil.
One such person who is a victim of the practice is former Star Kidznet presenter, Makanaka Wakatama who said early child marriages were not rosy.
“What I endured was hell. Early child marriages are just brutal, wrong and should not be allowed to happen. It destroys your dignity, makes you hopeless and shatters your entire dreams” she said after forming Makanaka Trust which seeks to curb early child marriages.
In Zimbabwe the legal age for girls’ marriage as enshrined in the country’s constitution is eighteen years and a lot of young girls are marrying at a tender age of thirteen which is deprivation of the girl’s rights and a bane to development as well.