Married too soon: Nipped on the bud

Child marriage refers to the marrying of a person under the legal age of 18 years. The constitution of Zimbabwe defines a child as every boy and girl below the age of 18. Child marriage is a defilement of the child’s human rights that takes away an opportunity for them to obtain a decent education, bond with their peers, enjoy the whole experience of biological maturity and ultimately to choose their own partner.
Regional and International legislations also ratify that child marriages are wrong. The African Charter on the rights and Welfare of the child disallows child marriages in article 21. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of discrimination against women are some of the laws and statutes that forbid the mistreatment of girls innate in child marriages. Zimbabwe ratified these conventions but it is rather unfortunate that child marriages are still prevalent. The major causes of child marriages in Zimbabwe are cultural, socio-economic and religious. Child marriage affects girls in far greater numbers than boys, and with more intensity. A number of factors have perpetuated child marriages and it is unfortunate that the girl child who is married off is often on the giving end rather than the receiving end.
Poverty has been the main reason why some families marry off the girl child to avoid responsibilities such as food, education and health. Early child marriage is therefore perceived as a scapegoat to these responsibilities and is valued as an economically strategic means of coping. However the downside to this is that the young girls are exposed to abuse, sexual exploitation, manipulation and the scourge of HIV and AIDS among other things. The situation becomes aggravated when they fall pregnant as they are often victims of maternal and infant mortality as their bodies are biologically not ready to deal with pregnancy.
The patriarchal system also plays a pivotal role in perpetuating child marriages. Patriarchy commodifies women and girls and this manifest through practices such as charging of bride price. This perception manifests itself in a number of forms such as domestic violence, rape and lack of access to basic human rights all in the guise of culture and tradition. It is through such discrimination and violations that many young girls are forced into early marriages.
Religion at times also plays a role in child marriages. Girls in some sects are married off to elderly church members who often already have other wives in the church. They believe that some certain individuals have a special ability to be ‘shown’ who should be married off to whom. In such circumstances the girl child has no say but has to simply agree and go off to be the elderly man’s wife. This is a violation of the child’s right to choose whom she wants to eventually spend the rest of her life with.
The media also perpetuates child marriages by prescribing the place of the woman in society. Through programming that is aired in the media many families want to fulfil the role of women as shown in the media. Unfortunately this has seen many children being married off earlier than they should-as though to fulfil that which they see in the media.
IYWD notes with grave concern the prevalence of child marriages especially in marginalised communities such as the rural farming and mining communities. More punitive measures should be ensured by the government to ensure that perpetrators of such injustices are brought to book. Policies must be put in place to address the issues highlighted as they are the root causes of child marriages. Every child deserves an equal opportunity to decent opportunity to grow up and choose. Denying young girls this right is no different from a flower that is nipped from the bud because the very life that these children have is being stolen from them. We all have a part to play to bring child marriages to an end. As we celebrate the international Day of the Girl Child (11 October) we all need to reflect on how we can make a difference to empower adolescent girls and end the cycle of violence.
The state has a responsibility to change customary and religious practices that are not in consonance with human rights standards. The state must come up with innovative ways to deal with the issue of child marriages through legal reforms. Dialogue and awareness raising must be used to compliment the law as perpetrators need to be engaged to fully understand the gravity with which child marriages must be addressed. Children must be given their right of way.

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