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The child marriage conundrum

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Married at 14 years, Marble Chimombe* was a child by day, wife by night.

She faced a myriad of challenges at the hands of her husband who never bought her food, clothing and preparation for their child.

The husband was unemployed.

He lived at his parents’ home in Honde Valley, Nyanga district, about 140km North-East of the City of Mutare.

The young girl chronicled the hardships she went through before she decided to take the bold decision to return to her parents’ place to continue with her education after giving birth.

“Marriage is not an achievement, neither is it a qualification,” she laments, but with hope evidently bare in her shining eyes.

“Let it be known to other young girls out there that your education first so that you empower yourself before indulging into adulthood activities.

Chimombe said she learnt the hard way and what she went through would not wish it even on her worst sworn enemy.

“Besides being abusive, my husband was unsupportive in any way. He ran away to South Africa under the guise of seeking employment.

“He would beat me for petty issues like burning food. I was young and the child in me then could not be seen or taken into account for the things I did wrong. They expected me to act mature, forgetting that I was a child,” said Chimombe with tears swelling in her eyes.

She got back to school after returning to her parents.

“At school I had to face another big challenge. Being a young mother my peers would laugh at me for what I had become. Stigma glared at me from all angles before it subsided. It took a long time,” she recalls.

The young mother says at the school she has become a beacon and a great simple example of a strong willed individual.

“I eventually became a young counsellor for the youths at my school. I sat for my Ordinary Level examinations and passed five subjects and want to pursue nursing, but the current hold up is that my mother has to see that my younger sister finishes O’ Level as I did.

She said her mother cannot single handedly support them finally at this stage.

Helen Mandizha* from Zindi Village, in Mutasa district is another survivor of early marriages who concurs that education is the key to a better life and future after dropping out of school while doing form three.

“Out of peer pressure I got married very young and left school and it was not as rosy as I thought. I got into an abusive relationship. My husband would assault me daily and it became unbearable . I left him.

Mandizha said she is waiting for her child to be old enough before she restarts her education since the father of the baby is denying paternity.

“The father of the child is denying any responsibility and claims he does not have the money to carry-out the required DNA tests,” she said.

The young mother said it is incumbent among young girls to pursue education first before hopping into bed and marriage.

“I have been there, I have seen it all and can assure the young girls that marriage is not a bed of roses.The same goes for young boys. It is not easy to be a young father when you are not self-reliant,” she said.

During a recently held Zimbabwe Gender Commission awareness campaign held in Mutasa district on early child marriages some participants heaped blame on apostolic sect churches for being major culprits in marrying off young girls.

Tawanda Matimati of Watsomba said there was need for continuous education and awareness campaigns through-out the country particularly on some churches that continue to marry off young girls to elderly men under the guise of Christian belief and faith.

“It has been a common practise amongst some churches in the country that take young girls to be wives and we hope this practise is put to an end.

“We have to keep on holding awareness campaigns against this scourge to win the war as the matter seems not to be getting to the people,” Matimati, a local youth counsellor said.

But Madzimai Asinoti Njerere of the Johane Masowe WeChishanu disputes the notion that the practice of early marriages is only prevalent within their church and other apostolic sects.

She said early marriages occurred in every community irrespective of church sects.

“It is another stereotypical way of looking at issues. It is not only unjust, but misplaced to place blame on some indigenous churches. We have seen young girls being married off by people, families that are not our members.

“Early marriages happen everywhere, particularly in rural areas,” said Njerere, a senior elder at the church’s women assembly.

Jenifer Maumburudze, a parent said most causes of early child marriages are usually poverty and a lack of information and idleness.

She said the Zimbabwe Gender Commission is doing great work in ensuring awareness campaigns reach out to communities as information is power

“I am grateful that the Zimbabwe Gender Commission is creating an enabling environment for us citizens to know and be educated against marrying off young girls.

“It is also my plea to authorities to ensure that employment is boosted since most of these cases are a result of joblessness and poverty. Lack of education is  a key factor in this,” Maumburudze said.

Maumburudze said children should not be allowed to be idle for long.

“If there could be some income generating projects for these young people and enrol them into vocational training centres, we can have these cases of early child marriages and school dropouts reduced to a certain extent,” she said.

Traditional leader, Chief Lovemore Mutasa, who calls himself a gender champion has written a number of books against early child marriages.

Chief Mutasa disputes that there is anything called child marriages.

“I think what we are having is something I would like to call child abuse cases under the guise of child marriages,” said chief Mutasa.

The chief said for the full and forward attainment of gender equality there has to be definitive action against child marriages in the country.

“We cannot address the issue of gender equality without addressing the issue of child marriages; that is where the problem starts, and that is where the girl child gets caught up.

“It is imperative for the girl child to be educated for them to get into positions of power and authority, but with these early child marriages it is robbing them of their education,” said Chief Mutasa.

He called on all citizens to play their part in ending early child marriages in their respective communities.

The Zimbabwe Gender Commission which is a constitutional body ensures that gender equality is achieved and promoted. The Gender Commission was established in terms of Section 245 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.

Among some of its functions, conducts research into issues relating to gender and social justice, and to recommend changes to laws and practices which lead to discrimination based on gender. It also investigates possible violations relating to gender, recommending prosecution for criminal violation of rights relating to gender. *Not their real names.

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