Source: Child marriages: Tying the loose ends | The Herald 29 MAY, 2019
Beaven Dhliwayo Features Writer
The draft Marriage Amendment Bill approved by Cabinet recently consolidates marriage laws and above all criminalises child marriages is Government’s first step in ending those unions, but there is need to look broader and also address their root causes.
The Bill criminalises marrying a girl below the age of 18 and pledging of minors for marriage.
Child marriages have been a huge challenge in Zimbabwe, and Government pledged to eliminate them by 2030 in line with target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals. With the law now in place, Government and other private players should join hands in addressing the specific drivers of child marriages in the country.
In many developing countries, child marriage is attributed to poverty, gender discrimination and lack of education and peer pressure among others.
The law can be in place, but the culture can continue in some cases and go unreported at the expense of the girl child. In the Zimbabwean context, child marriage has been mainly driven by gender inequality and the belief that girls are somehow inferior to boys.
In many rural communities where child marriages are rife girls are not given the same value as boys and there are widely perceived as a burden to their families.
This led to marrying off young girls below the age of 18 as a cushion of economic hardship and as a way of transferring the burden to the husband’s family.
Vigorous education across the board that all children are equal regardless of sex need to be undertaken in those communities with the help of the traditional leaders who are respected in their communities.
If families start valuing their children as equals, they would not marry off young girls, but will thrive to see them have the same opportunities with the boy child.
Another serious issue which needs to be dealt with once and for all is the patriarchal values embraced in many communities and the desire to control female sexuality, for instance, how a girl should behave, how she should dress, who she should be allowed to see and marry. Such tendencies may motivate the girl child to run away from the family thus falling into the trap of early marriages. In some instances, families closely guard their daughters’ sexuality and virginity in the name of protecting the family honour.
There should be an end to the common belief that if a girl engages in pre-marital sex, is seen with a boyfriend or returns home late, she is forced to marry to mitigate the shame. Some girls who fall pregnant choose to enter customary marriages because they are afraid their family will abuse them for dishonourable behaviour.
Parents should also be educated that it is their duty to support their girl child as they would do for the boy child and see them both finish school and become empowered individuals who can make bold decisions in their lives.
Low educational level among adolescent girls from Zimbabwe’s poorest households are more likely to marry before the age of 18 than girls living in the richest households and this should be corrected by way of Government intervention.
Education should be affordable and preference should also be given to girls so that they can continue with their studies even if their parents cannot afford.
Religious sects should also receive massive education to end these child marriages as many desperate Zimbabweans always give in to the command of these men of cloth without questioning the logic of the issue at hand.
Members of the indigenous apostolic church reportedly encourage girls as young as 10 to marry much older men for “spiritual guidance”.
On the other hand men in the church are reportedly entitled to marry girls to shield them from pre-marital sex. They should be furnished of the new marriage law and the consequences they should expect if they don’t abide to the law. There are also traditional customs being practiced among the apostolic sects which should be criminalised as well.
The church still practice virginity testing in some parts of Zimbabwe and those girls who are found to no longer be virgins are shamed into wearing a mark on their forehead and are required to find another virgin for their husband to marry as compensation.
Such inhumane practices should end as they manipulate the girl child and reduce them to sexual objects.
Child marriages is a global evil with recorded socio-economic and health disenfranchisement of its victims. The effects of child marriages are therefore dire, and if the problem is not addressed, poses a serious direct threat to the country’s efforts towards the attainment of up to seven Sustainable Development Goals 3 (SDGs) and realisation of the demographic dividend.
Government and other private players should therefore see, that the root causes of child marriages are dealt with completely to effectively eliminate child marriages in the country. Child marriages often results in children being alienated from the school system and in the process, shuttering them away from capacity realisation and development and empowerment opportunities that could lift them and their society out of poverty.
It also results in rampant violation of human rights and social exclusion, as brides are exposed to inequality, domestic violence and lack of choice about their sexual and reproductive and developmental rights.
It exposes the child brides and their new born babies to high health and death risks due to physiological immaturity and the related lack of utilisation of health care centres for deliveries. Girls who are married as children are more likely to experience domestic violence, and have a lower status in society, because too often child brides are denied their right to pursue education, employment or entrepreneurial opportunities.
According to the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW), girls who marry between the ages of 10 and 14 are five times as likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth as women in their early 20s.
“Once married, (a child bride) is more likely to be a victim of domestic violence and may suffer health complications associated with early sexual activity and childbearing,” says ICRW.
Girls who are married as children are more likely to experience domestic violence, and have a lower status in society, because too often child brides are denied their right to pursue education, employment or entrepreneurial opportunities.
With every child bride the country lose a future teacher, doctor, scientist, entrepreneur or political leader.
The cost to the country is tremendous, and it pays the price in the form of inefficient accumulation of capital and slower economic growth, amounting to trillions of dollars for developing countries by 2030.
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