Early marriage a cause for concern in Shurugwi schools

Very little time is needed in the darkest and remotest Shurugwi South resettlement areas to bump into young mothers carrying their children on their backs and breastfeeding their newborn babies outside their homes and at local clinics.

Former Midlands Governor Cephas Msipha

Former Midlands Governor Cephas Msipha

Many of these girls and young women are married to men close to their fathers’ age. Dorset, Kashambe, Reitfountain, Zivagwe and Zhaugwe resettlement areas of ward 21 are the most affected.

As the number of young mothers increases, so too do numbers of school dropouts, from primary to secondary schools.

Last year Dorset secondary school reported escalating cases of pregnant and early marriage related cases which amount to twenty-three academically potential pupils (both boys and girls) dropping out of school. The primary school, Dorset was also reportedly lost 5 pupils due to early marriages and subsequent pregnancies.

Dorset secondary school officials in the same ward are on records expressing disappointment at the rate at which girls are dropping out of school to get married.

‘’We are appealing to parents to support the girl child. The problem of premature marriages is negatively impacting on our school’s enrollment. What boggles our minds is that most of pupils who are getting married are quite brilliant. According to our assessment, the problem is caused mainly by hunger. We need to work together, teachers, parents and traditional leadership as well as police to curb the problem,’’ lamented the headmaster of the school at a stakeholders’ meeting.

Records in most of the ward’s health centers show an increase in the number of young girls visiting facilities for maternity services.

Local leaders and teachers have expressed their growing concern.

Former Midlands Governor Cephas Msipha, castigated rife premarital practices which he said learnt was rife in the Midlands rural areas.

“I urge teachers to continue shaping the future of these children. To parents, please avoid marrying off your daughters at such a tender age. I am shocked beyond words to hear that there are men who are prepared to propose marriage to a thirteen year old girl. Such men are mad. I am glad that local schools, Zhaugwe and Dorset secondary accept back girls who would have dropped out due to pregnancy or early marriage, the veteran politician Dr Msipa.

This year alone recent School Development Meeting minutes revealed that Dorset secondary in Shurugwi was robbed of seven vibrant academic potential students aged between fourteen and fifteen years who dropped out after falling pregnant. While in the entire ward thirty- three were lost to early marriage leading to a sharp enrollment decline.

Vision apostolic church Bishop Phillip Chatira lamented the need to engage community stake holders in solving the problem.

‘’I urged stakeholders, such as traditional leaders, teachers and police officers to work hand in glove to put a stop to forced early marriage. Forced early marriages might have a short term benefit and long term problems. Parents must not accept dowry from their young children its criminal,’ said Chatira adding by urging parents to send their children back to school in order to curb the girl child education.

Child marriage has been a challenge for the country just like in many other developing countries for a long time and in most instances it is common in communities where culture encourages such a practice and among some religious groups where young girls are given away to men way older than them in polygamous marriages.

One 14-year-old who went by the name “Nomsa” to hide her identity says she was pressured to marry and bear children at a young age. She sacrificed the future she envisioned while doing form 1 at Dorset Primary school.

“In our Johane Marange Apostolic church, a woman is prohibited to raise a voice in the presence of a man or when he talks. I blame what I am going through on the outdated religious, culture and traditions,” she says amidst sobs.

“The day I was married, I was called by my parents and told by my father that I have grown old enough to start my home and that I should drop out of school. My school headmaster, Wilson Mukandatsama tried by all means to intervene but nothing came materialized”

Boys, on the other hand, do not face the same prospect.

“My parents told me that a man is ready to make a deposit for my dowry and this would be used to pay my young brother’s school fee,” Nomsa says.

She dropped out of school in seventh grade and married -year-old man. She now has a seven-month-old baby boy.

Nomsa says that even her mother had no choice but to oblige her father, since a man is always the head of the house. As per tradition, his decision must never be challenged.

In most communities in the Shurugwi south constituency, such as Boterekwa and Ruchanyu, girls are regarded as a source of income. A father has the right to marry his daughter at any time to whomever he wishes.

A voluntary counselor with Childline in the Gweru district said very few early marriages are reported to their office. Those that are reported are often dismissed when perpetrators offer bribes to have them withdrawn from or before the courts.

“In the past we have had cases where families of abused girls are bribed with more than villagers to stay mum or even stop the case once the suspected perpetrators are arrested,” he says.

Former Provincial Community Relation Liaison officer, Inspector Emmanuel Mahoko is on records ordering Zimbabwe Republic Police officials to investigate and arrest men who marry underage girls, as well as parents who allow or enable their daughters to marry early.

‘’Criminal law (codification) act chapter 9.23 section 64 provides that engaging in sexual act with a girl under the age of 12 and 16 is an offence that attracts stiffer sentence. Parents and relatives that facilitate or partake in such a criminal activities where a n adult engage in sexual activity with a minor are also liable to equally the same level of offence of the actual perpetrator,’’ said Mahoko.

“Most of the young girls are easily lured by men to indulge in sex when these men give them money while some parents have turned their young girls into an income generating source. I am warning those involved that they will be arrested and charged,” Mahoko says.

An estimated 70 million, which is one in every three young women between the ages of 20 to 24 years today, were married before the age of 15 and 18, according to the UN.

Countries like Zambia, our northern neighbors’ is one of the countries with the highest number of child marriages and the UN now encourages individual countries and all stakeholders to promote rights of the girl child.

Governments, communities, religious groups like churches and religious leaders, civic society, private sector and the family institution, especially men and the boy child all have a duty to ensure that rights of girls are upheld and promoted. Child marriage denies the girl child her childhood, disrupts and limits her education, limits opportunities, increases risk of being victim of violence and abuse and jeopardizes her health.

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