A mother’s plea against child pledging

Shamiso Tazvitya wants her 13-year-old daughter back safe at home. The desperate mother says her late husband married the child off to a man from the Johane Marange sect. SOFIA MAPURANGA discovers a practice rampant among ultra-religious sects.

“He tried marrying her off two years ago to the same man, but I refused and he only stopped when I threatened to commit suicide,” said a tearful Tazvitya in an interview with The Zimbabwean.

She recalled the events leading to her child being pledged to a man old enough to be her father.

“I am his first wife and the problems started when he joined this sect. He married nine more wives, all under 15,” she said.

Tazvitya said the family was so poor that some of the children died of malnutrition.

“Each woman was supposed to work for their own children. The younger wives were not capable of this and their children died of starvation,” she said.

‘The constitution specifies that no-one under 18 can marry. The law also states that no-one can be compelled to marry against their will.’

Prior to his death, Tazvitya said her husband connived with his fourth wife and married off three girls from their polygamous union to a Gokwe man.

The children were told that they were being taken to the man’s homestead for treatment.

“My daughter and the other two, aged 11 and 12, were told that they were going to stay at the man’s homestead because he would cleanse them of demons that possessed them,” she said.

Tazvitya added that soon after the burial of her husband, her brother-in-law refused to let her take away her daughter, despite her wish to go to school.

“I would do anything to have my daughter back. I do not want her to be married off to that old man because my daughter cannot be traded with the few groceries, two curtains and sofa that the old man gave to my husband,” said Tazvitya.

Sadly, her story is not unusual. Women and girls as young as ten are secretly married off to older men within the church, despite child marriage and pledging in Zimbabwe being criminal offences under the Domestic Violence Act.

Although Zimbabwe is one of the countries in Southern Africa that has made considerable progress towards promoting children’s rights and gender equity, getting the support of the sects is difficult. Girls are often married off with the consent of their parents and the marriages are kept under wraps.

According to the constitution, children are to be protected from economic and sexual exploitation from child labour, maltreatment, neglect or any form of abuse.

The SADC Protocol on Gender and Development 2013 Barometer, by Gender Links and the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe, reports that the women’s movement, which advocated for a gender responsive and expanded rights-based constitution, should now focus on law reform and the implementation of constitutional provisions for equality.

Read the report: “Some ultra conservative religious sects promote polygamy, widow inheritance and the early marriage of young girls and discourage women and girls’ access to health.”

Suggestions are that there is need for increased education and awareness on women’s human rights to ensure that women in remote and rural areas understand their rights.

Former women’s affairs deputy minister Jessie Majome said any form of violence perpetrated against a person’s will was gender-based violence.

“It’s harmful and is based on socially ascribed gender differences between males and females,” said Majome.

Government ratified both the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and the Welfare of the Child, and committed itself to implement the provisions of both.

Although the national laws meet the need to protect the rights of children as stipulated in the Convention and the African Charter to a larger extent, it is difficult in practice to monitor the enforcement of some of these laws because most children in Zimbabwe are in the custody of their families, and family life is considered to be private.

This makes it very difficult, if not impossible for outsiders to closely monitor how families are taking care of their children, which leaves space for child pledging to occur.

The Indicators for Children’s Rights: Zimbabwe Country Case Study established that, in some instances, there was no literature available on certain issues about child related data, while in other instances special permission had to be requested and granted before the data could be accessed.

Findings from the study established that collecting local data on child abuse and neglect was difficult in Zimbabwe because there was very little documented information on children in difficult circumstances.

“Due to the relative ease of access to urban areas the Zimbabwe, data on child sexual abuse are very heavily urban based while data for children in rural areas is hardly available,” read the report.

Social scientist Kizito Mudzviti believes that there should be direct and targeted interventions when addressing child pledging in Zimbabwe.

He emphasised the need to engage the church leadership as a starting point because they had the power to stop the practice.

The constitution specifies that no-one under 18 can marry. The law also states that no-one can be compelled to marry against their will.

The programmes director for Justice for Children Trust, Caleb Mutandwa, said that because child pledging was a criminal offence in Zimbabwe, families were supposed to report such cases to the police.

“The challenge is that there are some families that are afraid of speaking out against such practices. This makes it difficult for the law to take its course and such cases continue unchallenged,” said Mutandwa.

“Mothers such as Shamiso Tazvitya can get legal aid and support from non-governmental organisations from her community and our organisation is there to give all the necessary aid to ensure the protection and justice for children,” he added.

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