Families marry off teenage daughters to escape poverty

SOME poor Zimbabwean families are being forced to marry off their teenage daughters to escape the burden of fending for them, a study has revealed.

According to a report published by the Research in Advocacy Unit, a local think tank, 31 percent of Zimbabwean girls often find themselves in marriages before they reach the age of 18.

The research, which was commissioned by the Canadian Embassy, also established that 16 years was the average age of marriage in Zimbabwe today.

This is a negative departure from 18 years, which was the average age of marriage a decade ago.

The negative trend exists in spite of the fact that Zimbabwe is a signatory to international and regional protocols that prohibit all forms of discrimination and oppression against women and children.

Delegates at the launch raised questions on whether rape has been institutionalised in Zimbabwe.

A researcher with RAU, Rumbidzai Dube maintained that poverty is the driving force for early marriage. A considerable number of girls run away from parental support while other parents force their children into marriage due to increasing suffering.

“Those with nothing today find themselves into marriage. The more unstable the family is the higher the chances the girl child gets into marriage to run away from economic challenges back home. There were cases where parents could offer their offspring to older and wealthy community members,” said Dube.

Harare West MP, Jessie Majome said families must be disabused of the notion that marriage was a way of empowering women.

“First there is need to demystify the perception that all women must be married. A woman should be free to choose whether to get married or not. There are a number of successful women who are not married and do well in life,” Majome said.

Women’s rights activist, Virginia Muwanigwa questioned why girls were the only ones fit to be sent away by struggling families.

“If early marriages were motivated by poverty, how come the only girl child in a family with six other boys is given to marriage as an escape from economic hardships?

“It would be economically viable to sell the six boys and get more money. Hence it is a struggle against male chauvinism that requires a paradigm shift in solving this menace,” said Muwanigwa, who is Women’s Coalition chairperson.

Other factors singled out for fuelling early marriages include lack of adequate schools and recreational facilities that favour the girl child. In parts of Mutoko, it was noted that some students walk in excess of 34km to the nearest school everyday.

Lack of recreational facilities was also blamed for the increase in unplanned early marriages since boys and girls would often find sex to be the only entertainment available.

‘’In some parts of Mutoko, going to school is a real monotony for children,” said Gladys Chiyangwa from the Girls Legacy.

“In some cases, they would have to travel for about 34 kilometres to the next school and at times there would be no teachers. As a result, students drop out before completing their studies.”

Women’s rights activists also bemoaned the continued existence of a clause in the Children’s Act (chapter 5; 02 of 2002) which defines a child as a person under the age of sixteen years.

This in essence means a girl can be married at the age of 16.

In her solidarity remarks, the Canadian Ambassador Lisa Stadelbauer expressed concern on the increasing cases of child, early and forced marriage.

‘’This is a phenomenon that violets Children’s rights, disrupts their education, blocks their opportunity, increase their risk of sexual violence as well as contracting sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS,” said Stadelbauer.

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