In my last article, we spoke about how so many marriages in Zimbabwe were created out of rape and abuse; how men either lock girls in their room on a date, or simply sexually force themselves on the vulnerable girls and end up being married to them.
We do have a culture of rape in Zimbabwe and it is about time it came to a stop.
The solution to this is simple —addressing negative cultural and religious practices that disempower girls and women from asserting themselves when it comes to their sexuality. It is not enough if boys and men are not part of the conversations to remove negative masculinities that promote aggressive male tendencies in intimate relationships, as well as a code that ties people in patriarchy throughout society.
As we proceed with the exploration of “the face of child marriage in Zimbabwe”, today we will look at the “marriages out of abuse by close relatives”. This is also threaded in the cultural practice that was established many years ago, whereby a girl could be impregnated by a relative such as the sister’s or the aunt’s husband and in recent cases, it can be even the girl’s own stepfather.
I remember many girls that went through this, especially in rural communities, where girls below the age of 18 would either be raped or molested or proposed love to by some relative.
In the instance where the girl is raped by her sister or aunt’s husband, the negotiations for lobola would be held between the family of the victimised girl and that of the son-in-law — who is often prepared to marry the young girl that he would be proud to take as a new wife. Often it does not matter what the sister or aunt thinks as usually it is the elders and the man who has committed the crime who have the last say. Often when the man is prepared to marry, the family of the girl is happy.
When the owner of the pregnancy enters a “relationship” with the young girl, it is often the young girl who suffers punishment and abuse from the aunt or sister whose husband she would have “fallen in love with”. While this man may be excited and seemingly protective of the young bride, the women close to the young bride could be highly abusive of her, constantly accusing her of having snatched the aunt or sister’s husband.
The picture painted in all these scenarios is one where women really have no say over what happens around their sexuality. First of all, it is their husbands who choose to marry them — often after they get pregnant as a result of a rape against their will. Never mind that they may have wanted to continue with their education. The worst scenario is when the abused women do not know that by being raped, a criminal act has been committed against them, even if they might be in a relationship with the man.
In the case where a young pregnant girl is married off to her abuser, she faces double abuse — from the rapist who seems to want to marry her, and from the aunt or sister whose husband they would now be sharing.
The community is also not very kind. There are the women in the community who will support the young bride, while fellow young brides are also likely to identify and sympathise with this young girl.
However, there is a group of older women who will sympathise with the aunt or sister whose husband is now being shared. These become the ‘‘enemies’’, and the bigger source of problems for the young bride.
Some people may say, “what is wrong with a girl being married at such as tender age when in fact there is an opportunity for her to be married?”
There is everything wrong with marrying off a young girl, especially when they are below the age of 18.
There are basic issues to consider, like the child’s failure to understand sex.
Because she is so young and often married to a mature man who has already has sex with numerous other partners, he may abuse this girl sexually because she doesn’t really know what sex is.
When women get married when they are old enough, they are able to negotiate for sexual pleasure with their partners.
Not only that, young girls who marry early are vulnerable to diseases such as HIV because they are not able to negotiate for safe sex even when it is obvious that the husband is having extra-marital affairs. According to national demographics, young women are the worst affected by HIV and STIs — it is a result of the lack of ability to negotiate for safer sex either in such marriages or even in non-marital relationships.
Issues of denied access to education, exposure to health complications upon giving birth and maternal mortality are also among many challenges suffered by girls who enter marriage too early.
It is our responsibility to educate others and #SayNOToChildMarriages!!
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 and musician. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org