Community & EngagementWomen & Youth

Poverty the main driver behind child marriages in Gokwe

Ephraim Munhuwei

Youths in Gokwe have raised concerns over the increase in child marriages which they said are a result of poverty and hunger, it has been revealed.

Speaking during the community dialogue organized by Community Voices Zimbabwe, the youths in Gokwe stated that young girls in Gokwe ages 12 to 17 years are forced to marry elderly people because of poverty.

“Due to poverty, girls are forced into early marriages especially when they are exposed to sugar daddies who have money. So due to poverty back home, they see it fit to get married. When parents pass on some are forced into early marriages because there will not be anyone to carter for them. In addition to that some parents neglect their children. Some might opt to go overseas to search for better pastures while leaving children alone back here. So the older siblings will bear the brunt of being the breadwinners which is challenging, and this usually drives the older sisters into marriages thinking that is the best way out,” said Rufaro Saiti.

Faith Mambara also mentioned that in some churches such as Marange Apostolic sect, they believe in polygamy so a lot of young girls are getting married before the right time. She also revealed that in some Pentecostal churches, young girls are being forced to marry deacons and pastors

Speaking during the dialogue the youths also said that some elders in remote areas of Gokwe believe that if they indulge in sexual intercourse with a virgin girl, it will help maximise their life.

“In remote areas that include Zhamba, Hovani among others elders believe that sleeping with a virgin girl maximise their life span. That is why the elders who are in their late fifties, and above have many young wives. You will find that some have about 5 or more younger wives,” said Neshlete.

According to Ramona Makuta who also spoke during the dialogue majority of girls aged between twelve, and seventeen are dropping out of school to get married early because of poverty and hunger. Their parents are struggling to raise funds for school fees, and even more so to provide them with enough food. This has led many to opt for marriage which leads them to force themselves into marriages.

“Girls aged between 12, and 17 are dropping out of school because their parents are finding it difficult to pay school fees. This has resulted in so many girls getting pregnant, and thereby getting married early because, for them, that seems to be the best way out of poverty. Boys are also dropping from school, and getting into gold panning early this results in some of them becoming criminals while they are young, and also marrying younger girls.

“The challenge is that nowadays parents are working for food to mouth. There is no way they can raise funds for their children to go to school because of the harsh economic conditions. Some parents have tried going to sell their products in Gokwe Center, but they do not even raise enough funds for them, and their children, so it is tough. If this situation continues we are just going to witness more, and more marriages. But, perhaps there is a need for more awareness in the rural areas to capacitate youths with skills, or income-generating projects that can assist them to navigate life, and avoid getting married soon,” she said.

In another sad report that reached this reporter, there is an issue in Gokwe South, Zhamba area under Chief Sai, where a sixteen-year-old Melinda (not her real name) is six months pregnant. This is her second pregnancy after suffering birth complications during the first one. She is the third wife in a polygamous marriage which has five wives. Her husband is fifty-eight years and is old enough to be her grandfather, but she is submissive due to circumstances beyond her control. The husband is one of the few farmers who get better yields annually boosting food security, and has many beasts that he uses to lure young girls into marrying him.

During the dialogue, it was also revealed that there are some school-going children who are practicing sex work while they are still underage.

“We see a lot of our peers who are now into sex work because of poverty. There is nothing for them at home, and some are being sent away from school because they are yet to pay fees. So this has led some to engage in sex work in a bid to raise funds to bring food to the table while paying school fees,” said a youth who identified himself as Marwa.

Aspiring councilor for Citizen of Coalition Change Philip Ngwaya said there is a need for police enforcers to intervene, and protect the girl child.

“The law enforcement officials are only looking at the boy child in terms of under 18 forsaking the girl child. The Police must strictly encounter cases that have to do with early marriages and forced marriages.

“…it is surprising that there are some bottle stores allowing underage girls in Gokwe. There will be young girls coming from school who will be in the bars. I think the police should chip in, and make sure that the young girls are protected,” he said.

“Everyone must work together with the police to protect the girl child and make sure that sexual abuse in schools, churches, and even in communities, forced marriages, and gender-based violence are eliminated in Gokwe,” said Ngwaya.

Speaking in an interview with this reporter United Methodist church pastor Nyamandwe said that early marriages are affecting the development of Gokwe community and Zimbabwe at large.

“Child marriages are affecting the development of the area and nation at large. We are doing a lot of campaigns but still, we need parental efforts to control the situation. This is not pleasing at all. We urge our children to concentrate on school work to gain knowledge, and confidence to become leaders of tomorrow,” he said.

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