By Byron Mutingwende
It never crossed her mind that one day she would bag the MTV Africa Music Award as a child advocate but thanks to Plan International, Mary Taedzerwa’s dream came to fruition as she was crowned the champion at a glamorous event in South Africa.
Mary Taedzerwa, a Zimbabwean young former child bride was awarded the prestigious Reimagine Africa award for Public Advocacy on Child marriage at the Annual MTV Music Awards, held in South Africa on Saturday, 22 October 2016 at an event graced by celebrities like world-famous musicians Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Angeline Kidjo and Oliver Mutukudzi.
The Child Marriage advocate’s fate was sealed when she was kicked out by her father after coming home late one night. With “no choice” she moved in with her then-boyfriend.
Having lived in extreme poverty with her family, the thought of swapping a life of hardship for that of a wife proved enough to convince her to give up school in order to marry.
“At first, the marriage was nice and easy. My husband loved me then,” she remembers. “After a year, things changed. Suddenly there were times he [my husband] would become physically violent.”
The physical abuse reportedly continued even when Mary was pregnant. After four years of marriage and three children later, at 19 years old she left her husband.
In Zimbabwe, child early and forced marriages are illegal — yet an estimated 34 percent of girls will be married by the time they are 18 years old.
Angela Machonesa, the Communications Manager of Plan International Zimbabwe, in an interview with Spiked ZW Online, the consequences of child marriage are appalling.
“Along with an education and childhood cut short, girls suffer a traumatic initiation into sexual relationships, are put at risk of domestic violence and STI’s, and have the chance of a career or better life taken away. Unlike Mary, most of them find it difficult to disentangle from such abusive relationships,” Machonesa said.
Plan International Zimbabwe, through the Because I Am A Girl and 18+ Ending Child Marriage projects is bridging this gap. They started empowering Mary. Now she has become a child marriage advocate in her community and beyond. Mary is now running a profitable business buying and selling clothes and other items.
Plan International Zimbabwe’s role in ending Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
Through Plan International’s flagship global campaign Because I Am A Girl, which prompted the first ever International Day of the Girl in 2012 and envisions a world that values girls, promotes their rights and ends injustice, girls like Mary are transforming power relations so that girls everywhere learn, lead, decide and thrive.
In Zimbabwe, Plan International is running the 18+ Campaign to end child marriage and is now a leading organization in the girls’ rights movement and gender equality.
The campaign has been an advocacy tool to mobilize and influence government, civil society, private sector and communities to address the barriers that prevent girls from realising their full potential. Plan International coordinates the Girls Not Brides Movement in Zimbabwe with members committed to advance girls rights and end child marriage.
Members of the movement supported two survivors of child marriage to launch their challenge to the government’s Marriage Act last January claiming that it discriminated against girls by setting the minimum age to marry at 16 for them but 18 for men. In a landmark ruling on January 20, Zimbabwe banned child marriage, raising the minimum age at which both men and women can marry to 18.