Child care workers fight early marriages in Gokwe South

Madeline is a 14 year old girl who lives in Gawa village of Gokwe South district in the Midlands province. She lives with her mother and young sister. In 2015, Madeline entered into a relationship with Josphat Manjenje, a 33 year old man who also lived in her area.

Angela Machonesa.... Plan International Communications   Manager

Angela Machonesa…. Plan International Communications Manager

In March 2016, Madeline’s mother discovered that she was pregnant. Upon being asked on the pregnancy, Madeline admitted that indeed she was pregnant but was adamant that the sexual encounter which resulted in the pregnancy was forced and not consensual.

Madeline’s mother immediately sought the assistance of one of Justice for Children Trust’s voluntary Child Care Workers, Priscila Tonhodzayi who assisted Madeline and her mother to make a report of the abuse to the police. Madeline was referred for medical assistance where the pregnancy was confirmed by a doctor. Unfortunately, efforts to arrest Manjenje were fruitless as he had run away and is to date still at large.

A docket was opened and taken to Court where Madeline was interviewed by the Prosecutor who was convinced that indeed the sexual encounter between Manjenje and Madeline was forced. A recommendation to terminate the pregnancy was made but Madeline did not have a birth certificate and it became a race against time to acquire the birth certificate for her in time for the termination which at law should be conducted within 20 weeks of conception. Madeline was born at Mutoko Hospital and her mother had not collected the birth record and therefore it was necessary for Madeline’s mother to travel from Gokwe to Mutoko to collect the birth confirmation record.

Tonhodzayi, immediately notified JCT of the case and the urgent need to register Madeline’s birth. Her mother was also expecting a child and could not travel to JCT offices to get the money required for the registration. Tonhodzayi was given the money required by Madeline and her mother to travel to Mutoko to register her birth and detailed notes on how to go about it. A few days after giving birth, Madeline’s mother travelled to Mutoko to register Madeline’s birth certificate. After obtaining the birth certificate, an order for termination of the pregnancy was granted. Madeline was admitted into hospital on the 20th of June 2016. The procedure for termination of the pregnancy was done on the 21st of June 2016.

“I owe my gratitude to the Child Care Worker in particular because she is the one who connected us to all the people who helped us. Deep in the rural area, we were just clueless about how to handle the situation. If we had not gotten in touch with the CCW, maybe today I would be just trapped into a forced marriage and nursing the fruit of an unwanted pregnancy,” recounts Madeline.

She adds, “I was not ready to be a mother and I kept thinking of the extra burden I would give my own mother. I am glad to be continuing with my education and hope to be enrolled into a formal school now that I have a birth certificate.”

Madeline’s case is an example of how Child Care Workers also known as community volunteers, are fighting child marriages, early pregnancies and other violations of children’s rights in remote parts of the country where such practices are condoned. The role that they are playing is also a tested strategy of how useful CCWs can be used countrywide to end child marriages.

Angela Machonesa, the Plan International’s Communications Manager told this reporter that Child Care Workers are of high importance in fighting for children’s rights. She said the CCWs also play the role of being mentors to the vulnerable children and are viewed as role models in championing child rights.

“As Plan International, we do work with them (Child Care Workers) in our program mainly being coordinated by the DCWP. Some of the activities done with them include: awareness raising on child protection issues which include child marriage and some of them are influential women who pose as role models and mentors to children (girls) in the community safe spaces,” said Machonesa.

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.

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