UN bemoans child marriages

The United Nations (UN) today bemoaned the scourge of child marriages, saying they undermine the dignity and well-being of girls and socio-economic well-being of communities.

Reza Hossaini
Reza Hossaini

“The United Nations today adds its voice to ongoing calls to end child marriages in Zimbabwe. Child marriages are not only an affront to the dignity and well-being of individual girls; they also deprive nations of the social and economic benefits that derive from an educated and skilled female population,” said the UN in a statement.

“I call upon all stakeholders to accelerate efforts to end this harmful practice,” Bishow Parajuli, UN resident coordinator in Zimbabwe said.

He added: “The notion that girls, some as young as 12, are fair game for marriage should no longer be condoned in this day and age. Child marriages are not only detrimental to the development and wellbeing of these young girls; they also pose a threat to the very wellspring of this country. We must redouble our efforts to reverse this trend.”

The justice system has been criticised for allowing girls as young as 12 years of age to engage in sexual activities.

The prosecutor general, Johannes Tomana, who publicly supported sex with young girls is currently under fire from women and human rights defenders, with President Robert Mugabe’s wife, Grace, openly calling for him to be fired.

Statistics from the 2014 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey show that 24 per cent of girls aged between 15 to 19 years are married or in a union.

A recent analysis of the 2012 National Housing and Population Census by the Zimbabwe Statistics Agency (Zimstat) shows that the majority of child marriages occur in rural areas, in districts like Chiredzi, Kariba Rural, Makonde, Mbire, Muzarabani, Sanyati, and Shamva.

However, child marriages are not restricted to rural areas, with the analysis also showing that almost half of all teenagers in Epworth, an urban area in Harare, are married.

“On too many occasions, girls who are married have been rendered vulnerable to HIV infection and deprived of their rights to education and to health, particularly their right to look after their sexual and reproductive health” Parajuli said.

He added: “We (UN) strongly urge the government to speed up the process of aligning marriage laws,” as “this will be a necessary and important step towards eliminating child marriages.”

“It will also bring Zimbabwe’s laws in tandem with its commitments to United Nations resolution on Child, Early and Forced Marriage, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, and the 2015 African Union Common Position on Ending Child Marriage in Africa,” he said.

UN Women Representative, Delphine Serumaga said ensuring the protection of girls and women was a critical human right and economic issue that was directly linked to economic growth and poverty reduction.

“Ending child marriages is not a marginal social or women’s issue only. It has to concern all of us because of its negative impact on social and economic growth,” she said.

The UN said child marriage was a complex and multifaceted challenge which is often driven by economic, social and cultural factors and combating it required interventions that include supporting community leaders.

“These efforts should also be complemented by empowering girls with knowledge on sexual and reproductive health and with the resources to navigate difficult social situations, including coercive relationships,” said the UNFPA representative, Cheikh Cisse.

“Girls should be encouraged and supported to stay in school but for those who drop out, marriage should not be an option. They should be supported to gain access to skills development,” he said.

UNICEF representative, Reza Hossaini said a quality education opened the minds of young people to a world of mutual respect, learning and self-fulfilment.

“Lasting change can be achieved through the provision of quality education to young girls, along with adequate social and legal protection as well as other social services.”

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