By Nevson Mpofu.
The Southern Africa Parliamentary Support Trust (SAPST), Parliament of Zimbabwe and Katswe Sisterhood came to the Legal rescue of five girls who had previously been sexually , physically, emotionally abused and exposed to child labour while below the age of 18 years.
The five girls Loveness Mudzuru, Ruvimbo Tsopodzi, Gladys Chihozhwa, Grace Tapera and Violet Mugoni came to be united by Katswe Sistaood, a civil society organisation that works to protect the rights of girls and women.
The girls were re-united with family members, friends and relatives after being marginalised in poverty and vulnerability for long. Part of their childhood was spent in forced marriage with un-planned parenthood and pregnancy. They have now volunteered to work in communities to be trainers of trainers to end gender-based violence and sexual abuse against women and girls.
The once school going girls told their stories in pathetic voices, tears and languish. These represent the millions of some in Zimbabwe and Africa who faced similar challenges in their adolescence. Most of them were affected and HIV Infected. This led to health, socio-economic consequences, sexual tract infections and failure to proceed with their education. It created severe poverty and vulnerability. Out of the World’s 7 billion people, Africa is burdened most by African customs and religion.
Out of Africa’s 1,2 billion population, 300 million people face poverty and vulnerability. Out of 50 million HIV positive people in the world, three quarter, nearly 35 million are from Africa. Zimbabwe ranks top ten among those severely affected by child marriages.
The girls and concerned stakeholders are lobbying the Government through Parliament to make the last motion to make the Law. However they challenged the President, Emmerson Mnangagwa to put his effort in a worthy cause for human rights.
In receiving the motion put three years back, Chief Fortune Charumbira made a strong appeal to make chiefs across the country be aware, sensitised and be advocated about the Law of Child Marriage in the country. Working with about 200 Chiefs across the country’s 52 provinces, Chief Charumbira and other traditional leaders is working hard to bring the problem to an end.
‘’Soon after the announcement of the concern by the two girls who faced the President, we had already made it strict that no child must be married before 18 years. Even boys must not. We have warned communities and their societies like churches, those who have belief in culture, tradition and African Customs to desist from the bad practice,’’ said the Chief Charumbira.
Earlier on in 2016 July 20, two young women Loveness Mudzuru and Ruvimbo Tsopodzi in a landmark ruling challenged and faced President Emmerson Mnangagwa. By then he was Vice President and the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs .Also contacted was the Minister of Women Affairs Gender and Community Development and the Attorney General.
The two young women by then were 18 and 19 years old respectively. They sought a Declaration Order in terms of Section 78 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment Number [No 20] of 2013 to end Child Marriage.
‘’ 18 years, this is set as the minimum age of marriage according to the Law of the Age of Majority Act of 1981. It is pathetic to note that many young women get engaged in marriage below the age of 18 years. Still worse, they will be young for love relationships, sex and marriage’’, they were quoted.
This year’s 16 days of Activism against Gender based Violence witnessed the rising voices of three young women .The three girls Gladys Chihowa, Grace Tapera, Violet Mugoni have amplified their voices to call for the final push to make the Government and Parliament of Zimbabwe finally come up with the Early Child Marriage Act .
‘’We are not yet free until the whole life of young women is addressed in Zimbabwe and Africa. Yes we witnessed many procedures until the bill was passed. Also civil society helped. We have been given all the support we had needed to remain sustainable. We are now at least living better lives. The President declared, Katswe came to our rescue with resources, Parliament pushed, civil society lobbies and we act’’, said Violet Mugoni.
The three were rescued by Katswe Sistahood. The Empowerment was in terms of finance for maternity, technical support, education and sexual and reproductive health information support. They were once sexually abused, emotionally, physically, economically and exploited.
Katswe Sistahood Programs Manager Debra Mwase said they came to the rescue of the girls in the space of eight years they have been working in communities. She said they assisted the girls with basic resources ranging from finance for three basic needs, maternity facilities, sexual reproductive health rights education and basic information empowerment.
‘’We have over the past eighty years come to the rescue of many young women. They had their pathetic tales. All of them got married below the age of eighteen. The Age of Majority Act of Zimbabwe is at eighteen years.’’
Research validated so far reveals that many out of the number of those sexually abused are girls from child headed families , orphans and vulnerable children. Some of them testified their parents had died, they were poor or their parents had retired, forcing them into desperation and early marriage.
The girls said they got lured to sex in date relationships. They testified on date rape. Date Rape takes place between two lovers. The male partner takes advantage of the young age and the vulnerability of the girl. This exposes her to early sex resulting in un-planned marriage.
Gladys Chihowa said she is orphan. She grew up at a farm. She got in relationship at early age of 14 years. The boyfriend, a young man of mid- twenties by then is now a polygamist with five wives. The family is of the Apostolic Religion. They believe in polygamy. They got into relationship at an early age. At first he used to support the girl while still in school. The girl became close to the support she got. At age 15, Gladys got pregnant.
‘’I was the support base of my in-laws at the same time looking after myself and husband. I used to get part time work in rural communities. With time I got pregnant. There arose a very big problem. I struggled until Katswe Sister Hood came to my rescue.
‘’They provided everything for maternity. I managed to re-unite with family members, friends and relatives. I empowered myself and saw ray of hope and new life. I have helped others see the same light, she testified.’’
The Girls testified on poverty within their life styles. They faced difficulties in supporting their immediate families. They had no basic needs, external support, Health facilities and Education. They lamented the need to proceed on with their education. However, Experts in Children Civil Society are working hard with Parliament to come out with Laws on Child Marriage to make teen pregnancies, HIV, STIs and unplanned marriages to be avoided.
A Parliamentarian Fanny Chirisa said the Government is working on several Laws together with the – Early Child Marriage Act and policies. These, she pointed out must be strict, stringent and be adhered into enforcement by the Judiciary and Police. The issue of tradition, culture, religion and African customs stand to block much on the achievements of young girls.
‘’There must be a move to lobby for strict penalties. Parliament is on the way this get addressed in parliament without delay. We are working on a number of Laws which we need to look at. Besides the Law, we want to engage such kind of young women to be in food for work and other projects to help themselves.
‘’Besides, collective action of Civil Society must work together with Parliament to identify marginalised communities. Above this, approaches by all of us leads to a move to solve thorny issues’’, said Parliamentarian Fanny Chirisa .
Zimbabwe is signatory to International Protocols like the Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1966 , Universal Declaration for Human Rights of 1948 , Covenant on Civil and Political Rights , Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and others . It is pathetic to note that, still Child marriages are high in African Countries.
Child Marriages of young girls leads to spread of communicable diseases which are difficult to treat and cure. These are HIV and AIDS, Tuberculosis, cephalon disproportion, eclampsia , obstetric fistula and pregnancy complications. The most current serious one is a Reproductive Tract Infection related to cervical cancer a new opportunistic infection which is elated to HIV and AIDS.