By Byron Mutingwende
Cicil society organisations (CSOs) have condemned child marriage and all forms of violence against youths and children.
In its speech while commemorating the 2017 Day of the African Child held under the theme “The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development for Children in Africa: Accelerating protection, empowerment and equal opportunity”, the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe (WcoZ) called for the acceleration of interventions to end child marriages.
Child marriage continues to negatively affect the lives of children in Africa. The coalition said it was a sad reality that 39% of girls in Africa are married before their 18th birthday while 13% are married by the time they reach 15 years of age.
“As Zimbabwe joins other African countries in commemorating this year’s Day of the African Child on the 16th June 2017 under the theme “The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development for Children in Africa: Accelerating protection, empowerment and equal opportunity”, it is imperative that concrete steps are taken to protect the girl child from the many infringements of her rights to non-discrimination, equal access to and protection before the law, freedom of association: personal liberty, development, health, education, equality and security,” WcoZ said in a statement.
According to the ZIMSTATS 2014 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), one in three girls in rural areas is married before the age of 18 with sharp differences between urban (18%) and rural (43%) areas of Zimbabwe. According to this report, poverty, cultural and religious practices are key drivers of child marriages in Zimbabwe. It is evident that girls under 15 years are five times more likely to die during childbirth than women who are 20 years and above. Additionally, a child of a mother who is under 18 years of age is 50% more likely to die in the year of birth as compared to a child born to a mother who is older.
They noted that child marriages significantly worsen the plight of girls as they result in loss of productivity in all aspects of their lives. On the other hand, pregnancy forces young girls to drop out of school, and their new-borns are also prone to insufficient care because of inexperience in motherhood and child care as well as lack of resources. As a result, they are exposed to higher risks of death, injuries in childbirth, Sexually Transmitted Infections, cervical cancer and domestic violence.
To tackle this, Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe through its members namely Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA), Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association (ZWLA) and Shamwari Yemwanasikana is implementing a two year project “Amplifying Community Voices Against Child Marriages” in Norton, Chiweshe and Mbare. The project works to galvanise community action against child marriages by transforming societal attitudes and perceptions to form a strong and coherent voice against harmful traditional, cultural and religious practices that promote and/or support child marriages in Zimbabwean society. The project location has been selected due to the recorded high prevalence of child marriages as stated in the UNFPA paper on Child Marriages, Mashonaland East (36%), Harare (19%) and Mashonaland West (42%).
“While we commemorate the Day of the African Child, we recommend that the Government of Zimbabwe takes action to:-
- To expedite the alignment of all laws that affect children to the 2013 Constitution based on the best interests of the child
- To ensure implementation of the constitutional provisions that protect children and Section 56 (3) that calls for non-discrimination.
- To make the Sustainable Development Goals a reality for children through their inclusion and active participation.
“We also call on male Members of Parliament of Zimbabwe who signed the DECLARATION to Protect the Girl Child, on the 16th March and 5th April 2016, to take action and fulfil their commitments:-
- to protect the girl child from all forms of abuse,
- not to improperly associate with girls under 18 years of age.
“We strongly believe that the media is a strategic partner in information dissemination and we therefore count on your full support, which includes reporting cases of violations of the rights of all children without fear or favour and ensuring that you protect the privacy and dignity of children in your reporting,” WcoZ added.
FreeZim Congress, a youthful political party in Zimbabwe today called upon all the youths to join the continent in commemorating the 2017 Youth Day reflecting on the massacre of innocent, youthful and peacefully demonstrating school children during the Soweto Uprising of 1976. It condemned the apartheid government and police of South Africa that fired shots in a bid to block a peaceful march by thousands of South African students. The party bemoaned that people still live in a society where leaders use the same methods to silence peacefully protesting citizens.
“It has been a culture for the so-called “Revolutionary Parties” across the continent to use the colonial masters’ brutal rules and tactics to silence anyone who rise against them.
“As the very energetic and youthful FreeZim Congress (led by President Peter Svinurai after the formal and democratic expulsion of Mr Busha from leading the party after violating the party’s constitution among many other issues), we understand the importance of the 16 June commemorations and join the rest of the progressive movements and congresses within and outside Zimbabwe in saluting the braveness of the South African youths of the 1976 who stood against the apartheid regime,” FreeZim said.
In the same vein, the Director of the Election Resource Centre (ERC), Tawanda Chimhini, urged the government to put in place mechanisms that curtail violence.
“The Electoral Code of Conduct for Political Parties and Candidates is a critical instrument in fostering political tolerance. Mechanisms must however be put in place to curb violence and make perpetrators of violence accountable for their undesirable actions.
“In that light, the ERC expects political parties not only to publicly denounce violence but also put in place stringent measures to reprimand perpetrators of violence within their structures,” Chimhini said.
Chimhini denounced violence insisting that it must not be tolerated in Zimbabwe. He added that Section 52 (a) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe stipulates that, “every person has the right to bodily and psychological integrity, which includes the right to freedom from all forms of violence from public or private sources.”
“Violence of any nature by whoever is totally unacceptable and must not be tolerated in Zimbabwe,” Chimhini said.
The ERC urged the nation at large to maintain peace at the same time calling youths not to be abused by politicians as instigators of violence.
Chimhini beseeched the Zimbabwe Republic Police, the National Prosecution authority, the Zimbabwe Judicial Service Commission and the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission “who are obligated by the Electoral Act to contribute invariably towards measures against politically motivated violence” to take their constitutional mandate seriously and ensure mechanisms for eliminating violence are upheld.
He added that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), subject to Section 156(c) of the constitution must ensure that appropriate systems and mechanisms are put in place and made effective to eliminate all forms of electoral violence.