Parents in Gokwe have been blamed for some of the early child marriage cases that continue to rise in the rural communities, it can be established.
The low levels of awareness of health risks that come with marrying a child off early as well as lack of knowledge of the law along with the limited scope of initiatives working to raise awareness about the practice has made progress towards fighting Child Marriage stilted and halting in the rural community of Gokwe under Chief Njelele.
Speaking during a community dialogue that was organized by the Community Voices Zimbabwe some of the causes of early child marriages discussed showed that parents in the rural communities play a role in children deciding to marry off earlier.
“Oftentimes these girls are given gifts such as vegetables to bring at home, and the parents just accept them. They just eat the vegetables without questioning where they are coming from, and this will happen frequently. So if you try to correct the girl from dating older boys, the mother might hate you for that because they are benefiting from the boy since at home there is not enough food,” said Gertrude Musindo.
“The challenge with some parents is that they are not paying for their children to go to school. Some children do want to go to school, but because their parents cannot afford the fees they end up staying at home. The challenge now is some will get bored by being at home all the time which drives some girls to look for men who can marry them because they think it will be better to have a family and live in marriage than to continue struggling.
“Then in some instances, some girls will be going to school, but without anything to eat. Meanwhile, at home, some will be mistreated, so along the way to school, they will meet some men who will offer them money to buy food. This will lure them and get into relationships with those that are offering money. They end up opting for marriage to escape the atrocities at home,” added Susan Mombeyara.
International human law recognizes a child as anyone between the ages of 0-18. Child marriage traps many girls in a cycle of poverty and prevents them from reaching their full potential. According to one elder, poverty in the country is leading to disunity among parents, and this is what also drives children into early marriages.
“Sometimes the challenges come from within the families. There will be disunity in families, the mother will be doing her own things, while the father will be doing the same on the other end. So the children might also be forced to deal with their own situations. This forces the girl child to look for a man that will assist her so that she also contributes something at home. This is what causes some children to go wild, it is because of us parents, we are not united, and children end up going the wrong way,” said Mbuya Selestina.
Brothers in the family play an important role in shaping the behavior of their siblings, however, during the dialogue Robert Mandizha stated that parents are no longer allowing them to assist in disciplining the siblings. This is now causing the siblings to engage in acts of moral misconduct.
“As brothers when we correct the girls at home, we might get in conflict with the mothers saying that we are not supposed to discipline the children because it’s their jobs as parents. Furthermore, when these girls are married the parents give them confusing advice, and in the end that will not assist them,” he said.
Some parents who attend apostolic churches that are marrying off children early have also been blamed for not standing their ground to defend their children. Some apostolic churches in Gokwe are marrying children early citing that the holy spirit would have proclaimed the child ready for marriage.
“Because of some religious groups young girls are married off early. Vafundisi vacho vanenge vachiti ichi chimwana chaibva (the church elders will claim that the young girls are ripe for marriage), is the statement they use to describe children who are ready yet they will still be underage. That is when they take them, and marry them off early. Such churches exist in our areas,” said Letwin Maunga a Community service provider in one of the wards.
Speaking in an interview with this publication, United Methodist Church Reverend McDonald Nyamandwe called on the government to align laws that permit sexual abuse with the age of majority in order 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.