By Joyce Mukucha
Without the active participation of women and incorporation of women’s perspectives at all levels, the Beijing Platform for Action 1995 states that the goal of equality, expansion and peace cannot be achieved. It is tear jerking that a girl child residing in rural Zimbabwe continues to endure male chauvinism in addition to engaging in early marriages.
The foundation of every girl child’s well-being is driven and boosted by self-esteem. The roots of her success lies within self-confidence, self-worth, emotional comfort and social contentment. Probably, when a female child has been taught these important skills of life, they grow up with a positive mind set to achieve their own goals. A girl child’s life ought to be valued especially by ensuring that her educational journey is smooth. Surprisingly, while others pray for their children to grow and succeed in life, in some Zimbabwean rural communities, a girl child’s future is being flung to the dogs. It is heart-breaking that it has become a normalcy for children between the age of 14-17 to become married at a premature age and they become left behind in terms of education, empowerment and self-sustenance.
Records of such scenarios are rampant in most communities of Hurungwe which is part of Mashonaland West Province where rural girls lack support and initiative actions to deal with the difficulties they encounter in their everyday lives. Most of them are poverty stricken orphans and as a way of trying to escape death, they engage in early marriages. They withstand emotional hardships in marriages as they scuffle to build families expecting men to change their wretched lives thereby obstructing opportunities to education and other benefits of life.
As they become mothers and wives before completing school, many young girls in this area have a similar way of life of looking after children and staying behind in their villages. It appears to be a normal routine for them. Engaging in early marriages impedes them from accomplishing goals and make better decisions in their lives. Early experiences of marriages have caused them to be suppressed by the male counterparts. They struggle to find independence in a patriarchal society by the virtue that their rights such as acquiring education are being downtrodden.
When they get married at an early age, these children are put at a disadvantage since they are still perceived as secondary school children who cannot make decisions on their own. A number of girls who are engaging in early marriages have a double burden which includes physical violence, sexual repression, and lack of emotional and economic support.
Young girls that are experiencing the quandaries of being in marriage at an early age are pleading to the government that it should strengthen care and services for the rural left-behind girl child. They said providing projects for them can play a pivotal role in resolving these problems. Spiked Online Media talked to some of the young girls in different villages of Hurungwe which include Chiedza, Mutore, and Magororo among others where cases of child marriages are increasing each day. They expressed the predicaments they are encountering everyday in those early marriages. They do not have social happiness.
“I come from a poor family. My parents do not afford enough in terms of securing food and other necessities of life. The main cause that pushed me to become married at a tender age is that I was no longer attending school so the more time I spent at home with an empty stomach the more thoughts of becoming married continue to grow within me. I thought it was a great achievement to marry a man from a well up family thinking that he would be able to support me and rescue me from the poverty I was experiencing all my life. What hurts me most now is that the man I married is abusive, he beats me up. I don’t have a voice in as much as family issues are concerned. I wish government can do something to help us so that we build our own future rather than being in these marriages,” said a fifteen year old girl who requested anonymity.
Other young girls stated that when they realised difficulties in marriages, they tried talking to their parents so that they would go back home but because these parents now depend on their in-laws they cannot listen to their children’s problems. Instead, they value money rather than a child’s wellbeing. They are psychologically traumatised and heartbroken. Some of these children come from split families and that also affects their wellbeing since a large number indicate that they would be abused by those who look after them so as a way of finding refugee, they surrender themselves in the arms of the men who will be even more brutal and abusive.
A sixteen-year-old girl (name withheld for confidentiality reasons) who is married to a man who is 10 years older than her age explained that, “My parents broke-up years ago and my life became miserable. Due to poverty, as young girls who lack support, we end up seeing being married as a solution to escape reality. Some of the girls are even forced by their parents and guardians to get married as a way of bringing a better life to the family. I see being married even to a person who is older than me as a great solution to my problems because I think that man would be able to support me and listen to my problems but he is not supportive, he abuses me but I have nothing to do about it,” she said.
In an interview, the chairperson of the Zimbabwe Gender Commission (ZGC) Margaret Sangarwe, emphasised that the commission was geared at ensuring that specified functions would be performed including sensitisation of chiefs, parents and general members of the community pertaining rural girl child marriages. She highlighted that there was need to work in conjunction with the Ministry of Education to ensure that vital measures are taken to curb early marriages and suffering of girls in rural areas. Sangarwe stressed that it was the commission’s duty to investigate cases of human rights violations relating to gender and pursue appropriate remedy for the victims.
“As a commission, we have campaigns on child marriages and we are planning to outreach those areas like Hurungwe and Chipinge to ensure children are not being dragged into marriages before the age of eighteen. If those children get married before the age of eighteen, parents should withdraw them from those marriages and send them back to school. We are trying our best to ensure that we extensively campaign in those areas and guarantee that the status of a girl child is protected,” said Sangarwe.
Commenting on, Sangarwe emphasised that some of the girls who get married at a pre-mature age do not afford to go to school. She said this is when the government should be engaged to provide aids so that the future of a girl child is secured.
Speaking with one of the elders in the community, Mrs Sandora Jambo, she said, there was need for commissions to take immediate actions concerning such scenarios that continue to affect a girl child’s future in remote areas. There was need to provide services, she said, and support to all rural girl children in order to promote their status. Legitimate activism, she said, skills training and organising young girls’ public activities, supporting poor girls to develop their own business to curb early marriages in rural set-ups especially in the communities that surrounds where early marriages of a girl child are proliferating. Mrs Jambo elaborated that it was vital to provide psychological counselling, education guidance for young girls as well as safeguarding their rights.