Girls marry young

The incidences of underage pregnancies has risen here, according to staff at the Chidamoyo General Hospital.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu at a conference to tackle underage marriages.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu at a conference to tackle underage marriages.

As the only referral hospital with a maternity wing in this remote area, it is now common practice to see children as young as 13 delivering babies.

A 14-year-old girl who only identified herself Munamato said she was raised to believe that she should grow up to be a good wife and mother.

“My parents, especially my mother, told me I needed to grow up to be a good wife,” she said. Very few girls in the area make it to O level, with most unable to even attend secondary school due to lack of funds.

“Even if we do get an education, we have no options for employment so we are forced into early marriages in order to release our parents from their financial obligation,” Said Munamato.

The Marriage Act states that men may marry at 18, while women can marry at the age of 16. Under the enacted Domestic Violence Act it is an offence to marry young girls, but it is almost impossible to enforce the legislation.

The Apostolic Church has been instrumental in encouraging and facilitating underage marriages. A police officer based at Kapfunde Police station said the

marriages were common in his area, but few of them were reported. The marriages are rarely legally registered but are culturally recognized.

Rudairo Kambuyi, who was forced into marriage at a young age, said she had no option but to comply.

“I was under pressure from my parents, village elders and church leaders to accept. The man was considered rich and influential and my parents said it was a blessing. The marriage was difficult and I had to run away to live with an aunt in Karoi,” she said.

Non-governmental organisation Women and Law Southern Africa reported that young girls in early marriages were likely to suffer complications during labour. Their research also revealed an increase in psychological pressure and stress among the young women.

Statistics from the Ministry of Education, Sport and Culture Magunje district office showed that three quarters of girls who enrolled in form one failed to see their schooling through to form four.

“Some of the children drop because they cannot afford the fees, but the majority get married along the way,” said a senior education officer who requested anonymity.

Thomas Mudzvamutsi, who works a non-governmental organization in Hurungwe, said they had been working hard on awareness campaigns to address the issue of underage marriage.

“We have tried to engage the government as the practice derails the government’s bid to fulfill its Millennium Development Goal on increasing access to primary education. Early marriages threaten national economic development, as many girls are forced out of school to become mothers. Most girls are exploited by their husbands; they work hard in the fields and the men pocket the money,” said Mudzvamutsi.

The Union for the Development of Apostolic Churches in Zimbabwe–Africa, a coalition of more than 180 apostolic sects in Zimbabwe, is on record condemning underage marriages.

“The police have been the biggest let down,” UDA-CIZA programmes director, Edson Tsvakai, said. “They turn a blind eye to these crimes. We sometimes report them, but there are few successful prosecution. Perpetrators end up roaming freely and this sets bad precedence for others.”

In 2007, the Girl Child Network rescued an 11-year-old girl who had been married off to a 44-year-old man in Buhera. The man was successfully prosecuted and sentenced to six months in jail. However, the girl had to

live in a safe house because the husband’s sentence was suspended and he continued to claim that she was his wife. Social commentators attribute the rise in underage marriage to widespread poverty.

“It is a matter of fighting for survival, most parents are ignorant of the importance of educating their children,” said a social commentator based in Harare. “In some instances, the mothers of the girls were underage brides and do not see anything wrong with encouraging their daughters to pursue the same path.”

Post published in: Africa News

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