By Kundai Marunya
I recently met an old friend who has been working for a non-governmental organisation in Binga- a remote district in the Matebeland province of Zimbabwe.
Catching up, we discussed a wide range of issues including politics, the economy and social injustice among others. Of all the topics what stuck to my mind was how many communities remain isolated and out of touch with meaningful changes that affect the wellness of people.
“There is no cellphone, television or radio reception. The only radio you can receive is Studio 7 (a shortwave radio that broadcasts from Washington DC, USA)”, he said.
“Even the road network is so bad. The only way to access information is via word of mouth or by travelling to areas that have fair network coverage so you can use the internet. ”
Most locals have no idea what the internet is. The few that know are not able to access it because of the lack of network coverage and mobile devices and or the knowledge of how to use them.
Inaccessibility of the area has left it legging behind in development. Thus locals still go on with atrocious traditions -child marriages included, with little or no information of developments elsewhere in the country.
Marriage of children below the age of 18 was outlawed over a couple of years ago but in Binga parents give away their 13 year olds in marriage, celebrating it even. To this community and many others in the remote parts of Zimbabwe marrying away young brides is still rampant, and may not stop anytime soon lest they are educated on the downside of the practice.
A Unicef report says in 2015: “Child marriages in Mashonaland Central recorded 50%, Mashonaland West 42%, Mashonaland East 36%, Midlands 31%, Manicaland 30%, Matabeleland North 27%, Harare 19%, Matabeleland South 18% and Bulawayo 10%.”
These statistics do not take into account unreported cases which are very high. In communities like Binga child marriages are part of a culture that no one has really stood up to point out it’s wrong. To them it’s just marriage. No one lack educates them on its downside and illegality.
“The police are not bothered with cases of child marriages in the area, it’s not even an issue,” he added. “Mind you this is a community where elders refuse to let the police carry away their dead, (even those suspected to having been murdered) for post-mortem because they don’t understand what that is.”
Over three decades after independence, Binga, a community made up of the minority Tonga speaking people remains one of the most underdeveloped parts of the country. Conspiracy theorists often blame the ZANU PF government for not being keen on developing the area as it does not compose of a large part of their electorate.
Some point out that if well serviced it will be a much shorter route to link Harare (Zimbabwe’s capital) and the resort town of Victoria Falls going through Gokwe and Binga as opposed to Bulawayo( the second largest city. Because many politicians are based in the two major cities and have business interests in Bulawayo, they have neglected developing the route. The road network remains either unserviced or non-existent.
The lack of political will to develop this area and many others like it because politicians have no business interests in them has left them isolated from developments that can better human rights and general living standards. It has also left people in the areas unwilling to cooperate with authorities as they rightly feel like they are not part of Zimbabwe, thus talks of severance of ties between Matebeleland and the rest of the country.
NGOs like Root and Girl Child Network have done a lot in educating communities about child marriages and laws around it but lack of funding and inaccessibility of some areas limits their work. There are also some closed communities especially the apostolic sects that encourage child marriages.
No one reports the practise because its part of their culture. Children are socialised to be ok with it from an early age. This has led to loss of lives during child birth.
Infringement of human rights
According to UNICEF, approximately 1 in 3 girls in Zimbabwe are married before their 18th birthday. To move forward as a country we need a government that develop even the areas they have no economic interests. They are still part of a nation. Living them out is just another form of oppression, the same repression our forefathers fought against.
If a community is left uneducated we are doing the same as robbing it of opportunities to reach greater heights. It’s also an infringement of their right to education and access of information which our constitution clearly stipulates.
On paper Zimbabwe has commendable laws that protect children. The government working with civic society needs to work hard to inform its people as well as enforce them if we are to progress and protect our children.
Picture source: Hivos Southern Africa