Child Marriages: Another Setback For Development In Matabeleland North

Social-economic development is lagging in Matabeleland North province. A situation attributed to the marginalisation of the region. However, the increase in child marriages poses a new threat.

Child marriages, widely regarded as an offshoot of several challenges bedevilling the province, remain unabated. The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the occurrence of child marriages, according to Hopeville Foundation Director Ruth Bikwa.

“Every week, we receive several reports on child marriages. Most of the girls are not going back to class as school opens for 2021, with the majority being impregnated,” says Ruth Bikwa, Hopeville Foundation Director.

Lately, the shortage of food in homes due to COVID-19 induced successive lockdowns has exacerbated these marriages. This publication has unearthed that some of the child marriages are marriages of convenience to cover-up sexual abuses.

A UNICEF Zimbabwe Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey of 2019 states that in Matabeleland, North 3.9% of married women got married under the age of 15 and 32.9% before 18.

Some concerned parents are citing a lack of sex education and sexual and reproductive health rights abuse as significant contributors to child marriages and teen pregnancies before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We must admit that our children are having sex. The absence of SRHR education entails that children are not conscious of their sexuality,” says Ndlela, an advocate for comprehensive sexual education.

“Due to curiosity, they end up experimenting with each other without even protecting themselves,” says Ndlela.

During last year’s school’s first term, available statistics show that 46 cases of sexual abuse were reported, nine pupils dropped out of school due to early marriages and pregnancy in the province.

According to an official in the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, Lupane had the highest figure with five deaths related to early pregnancy, nine cases of early pregnancies and nine cases of sexual abuse. In most cases, abuse cases are swept under the carpet by parents and perpetrators.

Statistics gathered by the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ) Hwange Chapter reveal that more than 19 pupils ranging from 15 years to 18 years of age got pregnant during the COVID-19 nationwide lockdown in Dete.

Child marriages in the province are affecting both girls and boys though girls are the primary victims. In the Sustainable Development Goals, child marriage has been identified as a harmful practice which the world should aim to eliminate by 2030.

Child marriage is more common among girls than boys but does occur among children of both sexes. Boys who marry are forced to drop school and start working for the family. This has resulted in many boys going for illegal mining of gold in places such as Inyati, while some engage in criminal activities. In 2016 in a landmark 56-page judgment, the then Deputy Chief Justice (DCJ) Luke Malaba struck down Section 22 (1) of the Marriages Act (Chapter 5:11), which allows children of 16 years to marry, saying it was unconstitutional.

The nine-member bench led by then DCJ Malaba declared that Section 78(1) of the Constitution sets 18 years as the minimum age of marriage and that any law to the contrary was unconstitutional. The operative part of the judgment reads:

“The law is hereby struck down. With effect from 20 January 2016, no person, male or female, may enter into any marriage, including an unregistered customary law union or any other union including one arising out of religious rite, before attaining the age of 18 years,” ruled DCJ Malaba (now Chief Justice).

“The studies showed that where child marriage was practised, it was evidence of failure by the State to discharge its obligations under international human rights law to protect the girl child from the social evils of sexual exploitation, physical abuse and deprivation of education, all of which infringed her dignity as a human being,” ruled the court.

Mthabisi Nkomo feels that the future and development of the province is threatened.

“When children marry at that age, they have disrupted their future. And it affects the development of their communities. We need skilled labour, academics, resourceful and knowledgeable people to develop our province and fight for opportunities which are impossible when the potential is cut through early marriages,” he says.

Source: The Citizen Bulletin

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