MINISTER of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development, Hon Sithembiso Nyoni has assured the nation that government would leave no stone unturned in resolving the case of Memory Machaya 14 year old girl who died while giving birth at shrine in Bocha.
By Michael Gwarisa
Speaking during the virtual launch 2021 World Population Day, Minister Nyoni said the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic was deepening existing inequalities and vulnerabilities, particularly for women and girls.
Existing gender and other inequalities have been exacerbated with girls and young women facing increased threats of gender-based violence, discrimination and abuse as protective structures are disrupted and economic stresses increase. Women and girls are facing a unique set of challenges which include access to Sexual, Reproductive Health and Rights services and domestic violence, while men and boys also face challenges of limited financial capacities to fend for families.
“As we talk of right and choices regarding reproductive health, it is disturbing to note that we still have pockets of our communities that are denying these rights to women and girls. My Ministry has been alerted of a very disheartening report taking its rounds on the social Media of a 14 year old girl who died while giving birth at a shrine in Bocha, Mutare District, in Manicaland. I would like to inform the nation that the we are working with all relevant authorities and stakeholders in investigating this case which is said to have happened at an in Bocha,” said Minister Nyoni.
She added that Memory’s case serves to remind on the scourge of teenage pregnancies and child marriage that continue to affect the lives of thousands of Girls in the communities.
“Child marriage is a violation of multiple rights of the girl child that include, denying her the right to education, right to health and well-being. It exposes the girl child to Gender Based Violence, HIV and other health related conditions. It puts the young mother and her child into a cycle of poverty.
“Marrying- off our girls before attaining age of marriage also denies the communities where they live and the nation at large of their contribution to national development. It is for these and various other reasons that we should join hands to vehemently condemn and declare our aspiration for a nation with Zero tolerance to child marriage.”
Meanwhile, the Constitution, the Supreme law of the Zimbabwe outlaws child marriage and clearly puts the age of marriage at 18 years.
“We continue to urge and encourage people from diverse backgrounds including religions and cultures to respect this Constitutional provision. I also want to unequivocally state that child marriage is nothing other than child sexual abuse disguised as a marriage and there is no reason for tolerating an abuse and it will not be tolerated even if attributed to any religious or cultural practice. Religion and culture should not be used to sanitize a violation of other people’s rights.”
GBV is one of the key challenges the country is grappling with, even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. It constitutes a serious violation of human rights and a major obstacle to the social and economic development of communities. Globally gender-based violence has increased amid the lockdowns.
GBV puts women and girls at a disadvantage as they generally do not enjoy the same economic, political and social status as men. We all know that if a person experiences gender based violence, he or she cannot participate effectively in economic, social or political activities.
Meanwhile, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Country Representative, Dr Ester Muia weighed in and said the fact that mots women in Zimbabwe and the world over are denied bodily autonomy was the reason why child marriages and early pregnancies were still rampart.
“This year’s report, entitled, “My Body is My Own” shows that nearly half of women in 57 developing countries are denied their bodily autonomy or lack the power to make decisions over their bodies. They are denied the right to decide whether to have sex with their partners, use contraception or seek health care, among many other issues cited in the report
“Through this ground breaking report, UNFPA is measuring both women’s power to make their own decisions about their bodies and the extent to which countries’ laws support or interfere with a woman’s right to make these decisions. The data show a strong link between decision-making power and higher levels of education,” said Dr Muia.
She added that the lack of bodily autonomy has massive implications beyond the profound harms to individual women and girls: potentially depressing economic productivity, undercutting skills, and resulting in extra costs to health care and judicial systems.