When Child Marriage is ‘Blissful’
CENTENARY- CHILD marriages have been globally condemned but resistance has been noted in some pockets.
At Bedwood farm, about six kilometers from the small farming town of Centenary, about 60 kilometres outside Harare, marriages, including those involving children, are seen as blissful and anything short of that is regarded as a failure of monumental proportions.
By Vimbai Kamoyo
At 16 years of age, Tamari Nhari (not her real name) is married and has a three-month baby and does not see anything odd about her situation as it is the community norm.
“I was married at 14 just after completing grade seven. I had been going out with my husband since I was in grade six. He is four years older than me and we are happily married. We survive by way of doing menial jobs and that has kept us going.
“Most girls here marry just after grade seven and it is the in thing to have a boyfriend at grade five or six. It is true that school is very important in life but here marriage beats everything. If you reach say 18 years without being married, let alone without a boyfriend, the whole community will laugh at you and consider you kuva munhu ane chitsinha (bad luck). Who wants to be termed that?” asked Tamari.
Edinas Chiunye, a plot holder at the farm, however, castigated child marriages that characterize life at most former white commercial farms, saying more advocacy work on the importance of education needs to be done to curb the scourge.
“There is the challenge of child marriages here. Our children are marrying very young and it is unfortunate that the supposed victims are ignorant of their predicament. They are happy to marry early and school does not carry the same importance here as it does elsewhere,” she said.
Her sentiments were echoed by former Member of Parliament for Muzarabani north and prominent farmer Edward Raradza who said there was the need to increase schools on the farms especially secondary ones that he said were acutely short.
“There is need to increase number of schools in the area particularly those which had white commercial farmers. During my tenure, I built Chinyani secondary school and it went a great deal in increasing enrolment for secondary pupils. If we increase and encourage school they will spend much of their time at school and that delays marriages. Right now schools are few and far in between,” said Raradza who incidentally has a school at his Mawari farm.
Veteran journalist and social commentator Patrick Musira attributed early marriages on the farms to lack of exposure.
“The problem of child marriages and the fact that the victims of that scourge actually enjoy their status is because farming communities are closed societies and most people do not know what happens outside their communities. You will find that most that live in those communities are content with their way of their lives. Farms are not much different from mining communities. There is also the issue of legacy left by the former commercial farmers who did not encourage or even curtailed education in order to secure cheap employment,” he said.
Blissful marriage might seem to some children but it is illegal in Zimbabwe for anyone under the age of 18 to marry.
In a landmark ruling handed down by the constitutional court in January this year marriages under the age of 18 are deemed unlawful, specifically sections 22 (1) of Marriage Act (Chapter 5:11) which allowed children of 16 to marry.
The Constitutional Court, in delivering the judgment said: “It is declared that section 78 (1) of the constitution of the Republic of Zimbabwe Amendment Number 20 of section 2013 sets 18 years as the minimum age of marriage in Zimbabwe
“It is further declared that section 22 (1) of the Marriage Act (Chapter 5:11)or any law, practice or custom authorizing a person under the age of 18 to be married is inconsistent with the provisions of the constitution and therefore invalid to the extent of inconsistency.
“The law is hereby struck down. With effect from 20 January 2016, no person, male or female may enter into marriage, including an unregistered customary union or any other union including one arising out of religious rites, before attaining the age of 18,” ruled DCJ Malaba.
The battle on the scourge of child marriages might have been won through the milestone constitutional ruling but as shown by Tamari the war is far from being over. There is now need to resocialise people like her and her community to understand that there is more to life than being married before time.
Zimbabwe joined the AU Campaign to end child marriages in mid-2015. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development with support from UNICEF, UNWOMEN, UNFPA, the Child Rights and Women’s Rights Coalitions has been working on a National Action Plan to End Child Marriages and its related communication for development activities. The Constitutional Court ruling of January 2016 has been an impetus to move the agenda forward. All these efforts are part of the global campaign to end child marriages.