ZIMBABWE is grappling with a huge burden of early marriages, rape, Sexual and Gender Based Violence (GBV) against women and young girls.
By Michael Gwarisa
Government through support from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and other donor and civil society groups have been running various programs at community level in a bid to end early marriages. According to the UNICEF 2017 statistics, 32% of girls in Zimbabwe are married before the age of 18 and 4% are married before their 15th birthday. The lowest median ages of marriage are in Mashonaland Central and Mashonaland West.
Majority of cases of GBV and early child marriages in Zimbabwe are being perpetrated by religious leaders, church members and or even family members. Apostolic sects are prevalent in provinces such as Masvingo, Manicaland and Mashonaland East and West.
According to the 2017 Inter Censal Demography Survey by the National Statistics Agency, 69.2 percent of Zimbabweans belong to Protestant Christianity, 8.0 percent are Roman Catholic, in total 84.1 percent follow one of the denominations of Christianity.
Even though members of apostolic sects make up the biggest chunk of perpetrators of child marriages in Zimbabwe, it has also emerged over the years that Pentecostalism and Catholism also provide a fertile breeding grounds for sexual abuse of congregants be it male and female.
Drawing the line between protecting human and women’s rights versus the desire for votes can be a difficult choice for most politicians. In most cases, politicians choose the later. Due to their financial influence and the legion of followers they command, most church leaders and churches are left to break the law at will.
Speaking at a Parliamentarians breakfast meeting that was organised by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) in Harare recently, ZANU PF Member of Parliament for Gutu East, Honorable Berita Chikwama said castigating SGBV and early marriages could result in them losing votes from members of Apostolic Sects.
Where we come from, we have these numerous apostolic sects and they are very dominant religions. It is from these apostolic sects where we have more cases of early child marriages and SGBV occurring.
“For us politicians, at times our hands are tied, we can’t say certain things to them because this is where we get our votes. I am saying the truth here. We have made efforts so far and I would say they have accepted that we ensure their children at least get birth certificates during their church gatherings,” said Hon Chikwama.
She added that castigating members of these apostolic sects against early marriages and SGBV was a toll order for politicians and called on Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to up their game towards reaching out to these highly religious and conservative communities.
“We are calling on organisations such as the ZLHR to talk to these people without fear or favor. We actually know what women and young girls are subjected to in these religions but we cannot castigate them openly as this could cost your political carrier.”
LISTEN TO HON Berita Chikwama in the audio below
According to the State of the World Population (SWP19) report, gender-unequal norms and expectations magnify the negative effects of other impediments to rights and choices. One example is with child marriage, which is overwhelmingly more common for girls than boys.
The report notes that when a girl is married, she is less likely to go to, or complete, school or travel freely outside of her home alone; more likely to be subjected to gender-based violence; and less likely to know about her body and rights.
In 2015, the United Nations endorsed the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its accompanying 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which include a target for “universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights” and greatly expand the number of gender-related indicators used to monitor progress. Goal 5 aims broadly to achieve gender equality and to empower women and girls.
Goal 5 also calls for, among other things, the integration of the recommendations of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action in national plans, policies and programmes.