Real men needed to end early child marriages in Zimbabwe
It takes real men to be responsible as the saying goes. With early child marriage becoming a daily dosage for local tabloids, there is need to involve men in the fight against this heinous practice.
Men have been urged to respect and take responsibility for the girl child as traditional beliefs about gender roles and sexuality among young girls underpin customary practices, which perpetuate early child marriage. This is especially so in the remote communal lands of Mbire district in Mashonaland Central Province, Zimbabwe.
Ending child marriage requires work across all sectors and at all levels to understand the complex drivers of the practice in different contexts and adapt interventions accordingly.
Simon Moyo, a resident in Mbire, says the issue of child marriage in Zimbabwe should be treated as a matter of urgency by the government and all sectors so that precious lives are saved.
Early child marriage is a human rights violation and despite laws against it, the practice remains widespread, in part because of persistent poverty and gender inequality.
Moyo challenged men as the majority perpetrators of early child marriages as it affects the socialization process in that the young girl cannot make friends outside the family circle which reduces her chances of developing her own identity.
Moyo added that most men still feel that they ought to marry virgins despite their own previous several sexual encounters. Marrying a young girl who is still a virgin to them is a better achievement.
He highlighted that girls pressed into child marriage often became pregnant while still adolescents, increasing the risk of complications which are a leading cause of death among older adolescents in developing countries.
“Once the girl is married early, she finds herself in a home with responsibilities and she becomes burdened with multiple roles.
The economic dependency on the husband places the girl in a precarious position which leads to stress and trauma. Lack of financial stability in families usually because of poor family planning has led hundreds of young girls into prostitution and young men come into crime,” said Moyo
He also noted that young girls have no power and confidence to demand safe sex they are exposed to HIV and AIDS and other sexual transmitted diseases. “Many of these girls who are married off early suffer from prolonged domestic violence such as physical, sexual and psychological harm”, Moyo explained.
Religious sects and cultural traditions that claim that such marriages are arranged spiritually and therefore cannot be challenged are another cause as well as incidences where young girls are forced into marriage to appease avenging sprits.
Moyo urged government and other stakeholders to establish a junior council so that the voices of children can be heard and considered when policies are made.
Statistics revealed by UNICEF children report (2015) shows that, the prevalence rate of child marriages are as follows Mashonaland central 50%, Mashonaland West 42%, Masvingo39%, Mashonaland East 36%, Midlands 31%, Manicaland 30%, Matabeleland North27%, Harare 19%, Matabeleland South 18% and Bulawayo 10%.
These statistics are indication that there is a big problem and a lot needs to be done.
The prevalence of child marriage in Zimbabwe is still unacceptably high, there is need to make every effort as individuals, families, communities and government to put measures in place aimed at ending child marriage.
Organisations such as ROOTS, Katswe Sistahood and Plan International have committed to put an end to child marriage, and they have engaged traditional leaders and communities where child marriages are rampant.
According to a UNFPA report, ending child marriage requires action at many levels. Existing laws against marriage should be enforced, especially when girls are at risk of child marriage, or to seek protection and justice.
“But laws only provide the framework for action against child marriage. Practices people deem acceptable are unlikely to disappear through legislation alone”, revealed the UNFPA report.
The report urged that government, civil society and other partners must work together to ensure girls have access to education, health information and services and life- skills training. Girls who are able to stay in school and remain healthy enjoy a broader range of options, and they are more likely to avoid child marriage.
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.