Church leaders in Gokwe have castigated the increase in early child marriages, forced marriages, and child prostitution which has become a hindrance in most parts of Gokwe with the northern part reportedly leading to school dropouts.
Statistics gathered by CAMFED through Gokwe North acting District Development Coordinator, Stewart Gwatirinda, about 25 girls dropped out of school and eloped. Although he could not give exact figures, Mr. Gwatirinda said most of the girls are below the age of 16. He described the situation as “disturbing”.
“The issue of child marriages in Gokwe is so rife. What is more worrying is that the girls are falling for elderly men who already have many wives. We have people who are serious about cotton farming in Gokwe North. Most of them are the ones that are luring young girls into marriages. In some instances, we also have some families born out of poverty, and these are forcing underage girls into marriage in exchange for beasts or groceries,” revealed Gwatirinda.
Gokwe is popular for cotton growing with the two districts of Gokwe accounting for 50 percent of the cotton grown in the country. Some people are living lavishly as a result of growing cotton, and these also boast of owning more livestock. This results in many of them marrying many wives. Some marry many wives in order to have more labor to work in the fields. Research has shown that some of these men are luring young girls into marriages with the aim of increasing the labor force for their cotton fields. There are many untold stories of underage girls who have eloped with men old enough to be their grandparents. The desperate girls will be joining the polygamous life at a tender age, and to make matters worse most of the time these women do not enjoy the benefits of great cotton yields.
United Methodist Church Reverend McDonald Nyamandwe blamed the white garments churches saying that is where a child and forced marriages in Gokwe and even the whole nation are alarming.
“I blame the white garments churches who allow and practice such activities of child marriages, especially Johanne Marange Apostolic church. In mainline churches you cannot find such allegations, we have to terminate this…”
Furthermore, Pastor Nyamandwe also called on the government to align laws that permit sexual abuse with the age of majority so as to protect children’s sexual reproductive health rights.
“I believe those who break the law by marrying young children should be arrested and face stiff sentences because they shutter young people’s dreams. Right now the law permits children as young as 16 to engage in sexual activity while on the other hand, there is a law saying children under 18 years cannot be married. So this creates loopholes. Furthermore, Hosea 4:6 says ‘my people perish because they lack knowledge’. I believe with better education on the dangers of child marriages, proper implementation of the law, and counseling of these children from all levels will help reduce such activities in our community,” said Rev Nyamandwe.
However, Johane Masowe Apostolic sect leader in Gokwe Madzibaba Benjamin refuted these allegations saying that his sect is doing all it can in fighting against early child marriages.
“As an apostolic sect, we are fighting against early child marriages. Of late our churches were well known for promoting early child marriages. But we saw that it is against the law and we have since begun preaching against it while promoting youths to marry after the age of 18. If these youngsters get in early marriages it puts their health at risk and they are prone to poverty as they become parents when they are still kids while they will financially unstable,” he explained.
Paster Douglas Taruvinga of the Apostolic Faith Mission (AFM) told this reporter that in their congregation they have a board of elderly mothers who advise and guard against early marriages within the church.
“In AFM we have chosen elderly mothers who advise and guard against early marriages, especially on Wednesdays and Thursdays they meet to teach children mainly the girl child on the effects of early marriages and GBV,” he said.
Rev Nyamhandwe further recommended parents in Gokwe play a leading role in educating their own children on sexual reproductive issues.
“Let us engage our children as a society and not wait for teachers to do that. Let us take responsibility for sexual reproductive education for our children as parents. The home environment is always the best for such education. It takes the whole society to raise a child. It is true that due to Covid-19 most school systems have been disturbed and this has resulted in people lying idle and ending up indulging in sexual activities, but there is something we can do,” he said.
Statistics have shown that Zimbabwe has a 33,7 percent prevalence of child marriages with 5,4 percent of the girls getting married before they reach the age of 15 while two percent of boys in Zimbabwe marry before they reach 18.
Research carried out by Shamwari Yemwanasikana, a civil organisation, revealed that the major drivers of child marriages are forced marriage due to cultural and religious practices, poverty, teenage pregnancies, and poor enforcement of laws and policies that protect the girl child.
Shamwari Yemwanasikana Programmes Co-ordinator, Miss Marjorie Nhamoinesu, was quoted as having said that poverty, culture, and tradition were the key drivers of child marriages.
“The patriarchal nature of Zimbabwean society is also at the center of this crisis. As families grapple with the stinging effects of poverty and inflation girls have become tickets for the next meal for improvised families. Girls are married off or forced into prostitution to earn a living for themselves and their siblings,” she said.
This has prompted traditional leaders in Gokwe to kick start a program that assists in fighting child marriages and sexual exploitation. Chief Chisina of Mapu village in Gokwe South said they will be playing an integral role given that most of these marriages take place within customary communities.
“We encourage people to report child marriages. As traditional leaders, we condemn in the strongest terms any child marriage. The practice is not just unlawful in terms of the laws of the country, but is not consistent with our traditional norms and values which we superintend,” he said.
Another headman from Gokwe South’s Chief Njelele area Headman Mashova of Mashova village said child marriages are a cause for concern therefore in his village they have initiated campaign awareness programs to end child marriages.
“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,” he said.
Meanwhile, Edinah Masanga, the Executive Director of the Girl Child Network Zimbabwe, stated that there are a lot of complications that can result from child marriages while mentioning that her organization has been lobbying the leaders of the Johanne Marange Apostolic Church in some areas to stop marrying off girls.
“Babies born to teen mothers have high chances of premature birth, low birth weight, respiratory problems, and developmental delays. Motherhood at this early age is very dangerous, and often results in complicated pregnancies and complicated births that may lead to fatalities for both the mother and the child,” she said.
The consequences of child marriage are devastating and often determine the trajectory of a girl’s life.