Women’s rights activists say the issue of child marriages cannot be divorced from the economic situation in the country which is forcing most young girls into early marriages and only self-help projects can help curtail this problem.
Most families in the rural areas a hardly getting by which has given a leeway to those from better off families to take advantage of the young and unsuspecting girls luring them into relationships, in-turn marriages before the legal age.
One of women’s rights activist Mrs Florence Guzha, the Ebenezer Women Social Entrepreneurship Trust Director said self-help and income generating projects are a necessity to curb the current proliferation of early marriages.
She said the levels of poverty in rural Zimbabwe with the current prevailing environment is forcing young girls into these marriages as a source of survival with some cases having them decline help citing that they are better off at their husbands’ homes than theirs due extreme poverty.
“We had a meeting in Shurugwi recently with organisations into these child marriage and HIV/AIDS issues; four girls stood up and said straight up that there in the marriages for economic survival.
“One of the girls, a 16 year old actually stood up and said she has been impregnated by an accountant and she loves him; she said at her home they have no food and the person who got her pregnant are well off then people tell her to go back home because she is underage, what for?
“So we realised with such situations even if she is taken back home she would run away and go back to her husband,” she said.
“Others are parents who marry off their daughters because they can’t afford to take care of themselves and the children.”
A similar case in the area, though most cases usually involve forced marriages of young girls to much older man which are followed by abuse and ill-treatment at the in-laws, as Guzha says, involved two underage teenagers one 15 years (girl) and a boy (16) who impregnated each other.
The girl opted to elope to the boy’s homestead also running away from the poverty at home as the boy’s family was well off.
Ms Guzha says the only sustainable solution to such issues and the whole child marriage fiasco in the country is for government and Civic Society Organisations to implement self-help and income generating projects so that communities are empowered economically as well as fully engaging with community leadership.
“We have a duty to engage the leadership on such issues so that information can cascade down to the community members; whatever the leaders accept most of the time the ordinary villagers tend to follow.
“There is need to empower communities economically so that we do not deprive these girls of their tomorrow just because these unfortunate things have happened in their lives,” she added.
Mrs Thembelani Moyo formerly with Musasa Project said in Zimbabwe child marriages cannot be divorced from the economic environment as most cases that they deal with were somehow economic related.
Zimbabwe joined the African Union Campaign to end child marriages in mid-2015 and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development with support from 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.
Information from ‘Girlsnotbrides’ website sourced from UNICEF reveals that child marriages predominantly affect girls who live in poverty and in rural areas. Girls from the poorest of households are more than 4 times likely to be married/in union before the age 18 than girls from well-off households.
In January 2016, the Zimbabwe Constitutional Court ruled that the Marriage Act, which allowed girls as young as 16 to be married off with their parents’ consent was unconstitutional and recognised 18 years as the legal minimum age of marriage.