Family mediation centres in rural areas key in ending child marriages

Scores of families and communities see child marriage as a deeply rooted practice which has been part of their culture for generations. At the family level, child marriage is often driven by inequitable gender norms such as an emphasis on protecting a girls’ or her family’s honour by controlling her sexuality.

Protesters against child marriages.

Protesters against child marriages.

Families of girls who are child brides or are at risk of becoming child brides can be engaged in mediation services in which they can learn about the rights of girls and the negative consequences that child marriage can have on their daughters and her wider family. It has therefore been proposed that family mediation centres be established in rural areas where cases of child marriages are rife.

Child rights activists are on record for highlighting that for change to happen, the values and norms which support the practice of child marriage within families need to shift. Working with families and the wider community to raise awareness of the harmful consequences of child marriage can change attitudes and reduce the acceptance among those who make the decision to marry girls as children.

According to the Child not Brides campaign, which is a global partnership of more than 600 civil society organisations from over 80 countries committed to ending child marriage and enabling girls to fulfil their potential, there is need for family mediation in ending the scourge.

“Working with men and boys is a critical part of our efforts to end child marriage. In many communities it is the men who hold the power and make the decisions. Interventions targeting fathers, brothers, husbands and future husbands are important in helping men and boys reflect on the status quo and see the benefits of a community which values and supports girls and women to fulfil their potential,” a recent statement by the Child not Brides team notes.

The statement adds: “Religious and traditional leaders, too, have the potential to play a key role in speaking out against child marriage and changing community attitudes. In communities where religious and traditional leaders play a prominent role in decision-making or influencing the prevailing norms, targeted interventions can support them to become positive advocates for change who fully understand the implications of child marriage for girls and their families.”

Former Padare/Enkundleni/ Men’s Forum Regional Programmes Officer, Paul Juru, who has travelled the length and breadth of Midlands and Masvingo advocating for gender equality, told this reporter that in rural areas, family mediation can be a key strategy to end child marriages.

“There is need for partners in the programme of ending child marriages to set up family mediation centres across the country. At these centres, families of girls who are child brides or are at risk of becoming child brides can participate in mediation services. During these sessions families learn about the rights of girls and the negative consequences that child marriage can have on their daughters. Mediation supports families through the difficult process of ending their daughter’s engagement or marriage by annulment or divorce,” he said.

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