So the next few weeks I intend to run a series of articles on child marriages in Zimbabwe. My work dwells much on isues to do with girls and young women although I tend to focus slightly on youths and women in general. My bias towards girls and young women is meant to elevate our communities as these vulnerable groups are the most marginalised.
Last week the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development together with the civic society, churches, private schools and other actors gathered to celebrate the Constitutional Court’s decision to outlaw child marriages through a march in Harare.
The position that we want to see in communities is the understanding of girls, young women, youths and women’s human rights of equity and equality which brings about sustainable development.
I have every reason to make sure that people in our communities are well-informed about girls and young womens’ rights, for example child marriages and how they violate the girl child’s well being and rights. I want to share my experiences with everyone so that every citizen understands and appreciates children, especially the girl child’s rights.
Most importantly, it will be a great achievement if citizens become champions and actors on any threats against girls and young womens’ rights such as child marriages in their respective communities.
In this installment, I wish to dwell on one of the prevalent sources of child marriages in Zimbabwe. This will be mainly informed from the Midlands and Harare provinces where we do work with Tag a Life International Trust. However, the general experiences that rural girls go through are to a large extent almost similar with minor differences mainly due to geographical location and cultural beliefs.
Girls can be forced into marriages from incidences like coming back home later than their required time. For example, a family can say every girl child should come back home by 6pm. This “curfew” often applies to girls while boys are allowed to be home anytime they might wish. Sometimes it is actually the boys who require their sisters to be home earlier and they are in most cases the enforcers of this “curfew”.
Investigations show that the intention of families when they come up with these “curfews” is to protect girls from unwanted pregnancies. It was a traditional way of child protection. However, this girl child protection measure was implemented, ignorant of the fact that the family was perpetuating a superiority complex for boys over the girls.
In a scenario where girls are given a “curfew” and boys are allowed to play until the next morning, whose daughters are these boys allowed to be with? And we wonder why the problems are not ending.
This scenario of ordering girls to be home early and leaving boys out is retrogressive in ending social ills like child marriages, HIV and Aids, gender-based violence and poverty. It has taught girls that if anything happens to them, it is their fault because they were out till late hours. It at the same time relinquishes the boys the responsibility of their own sexuality. So at the end of the day, the boys are not held accountable for impregnating someone and spreading diseases, but the girls are responsible for their own pregnancies. This is the failure of our culture and our time, until we fix this and begin to treat children as children.
What that set-up seems to set a blind eye on is the fact that, according to a report by Unicef, 74% of girls rape is caused by date rape. So now, the boys do not have any responsibilities concerning their own sexuality and how they deal with girls, at the same time they have this ascribed power that they exert on girls without anybody questioning them.
The girls on the other hand have the burden to make pregnancies or marriages their responsibility because they are assumed to have failed to look after themselves and they do not have the physical power over their own sexuality that society has given to the boy child.
It is important for children to be told to come back home early and it is the responsibility of every parent to make sure their child is disciplined enough to take responsibilities of communicating and creating trust between the parent and the child to be able to negotiate certain times of coming home.
However, it is lying to self for a parent to only insist on their girl child taking responsibility while their sons gallivant and come home late, drunk.
In these changing days we fool ourselves as society if we continue with the unequal treatment of girls and boys. Girls and boys should be raised by the same standards as children, given the same responsibilities and rights so that we build communities and societies that are empowered with morals and values on justice.
l Nyaradzo “Nyari” Mashayamombe is the founder and executive director of Tag a Life International Trust, a girl child rights organisation. She is a development consultant, entrepreneur, musician, conference speaker and loves life. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org