THE Ministry of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development together with the United Nations (UN) in Zimbabwe and its agencies, UNICEF, UN Women and UNFPA convened in Harare to launch a pledge to end child marriage, amidst growing calls for increased women involvement to end child marriages in the country.
By Michael Gwarisa
The development comes amidst indication that child marriage remains widespread in the country with evidence on the ground showing that one out every three women in Zimbabwe were married before the age of 18 due harmful practices such as child marriage among others.
Giving her Keynote Address, Honorable Jennifer Mhlanga, the Deputy Minister of Women’s Affairs said women should take a leading role in ending child marriage.
Child marriage is indeed a very complex issue and it has been with us and our Zimbabwean society for generations. It has been a vicious cycle that has caused untold suffering to unknowing and innocent girls and it is rooted in gender inequality and the belief that girls and women are inferior to boys and men,” said Honorable Mhlanga.
She added that in a society where gender inequality is rampart, women and girl are treated like second class citizens, denied their human rights and valued less because of their sex.
“Child marriage is such an example of this gender inequality. Child marriages and harmful practices are social ills which negatively affect the socio economic development of children especially our girls. As a result of this, there is need for strong interventions to eliminate the scourge as it hinders the role of women to participate in the development of their own country.
“Women play a very critical role in our families and communities and the country at large. Women are primarily care givers to both the children and elders in every country in the world. Studies in other jurisdictions demonstrate that when the economy and political organisation of society changes, women take the leader in helping the family adjust to these new realities and challenges.”
She added that basic education was also critical in ensuring a nation achieves sustainability targets and it is the mother in the family who often urges children of both genders to attend and stay in school.
UNICEF Representative in Zimbabwe, Dr Tajudeen Oyewale said child marriage remains high in Zimbabwe and needs all hands on deck.
“Our estimates indicate that one woman out of three women aged 20 to 49 was married before the age of 18 and 5% of the girls in this country are married before reaching their 15th birthday. We know child marriage has devastating impact on the lives of the girls.
“Child marriage disrupts childhood and deprives girls of their right to be a child. It often leads to school drop-outs, disallowing girls to develop their full potential and to early pregnancies when a girl is not mentally and physically ready to give birth or take care of a young child,” said Dr Oyewale.
He added that UNICEF has made ending child marriage in Zimbabwe their priority in its new country programme. He also applauded the recent adoption of legislation in Zimbabwe and the Constitutional Court judgement, confirming that no child under the age 18 is legally allowed to marry.
“While this legislation is important, we all know it is not enough. We need behavioural change in communities and throughout society. The perception of the role of women in society need to change. Adolescent girls need to be given the opportunity to develop their full potential as individuals and as members of their community and society.”
UNFPA Country Representative Dr Esther Muia weighed in saying, “Ending child marriage in Zimbabwe and protecting girls against the consequences of early marriage need more than legislation. It needs behavioural change in the communities. Community leaders, parents and caregivers, elderly men and women, influencers and children themselves are called to advocate in their communities against child marriage.
“The impact of Child marriage and its negative health and social empowerment outcomes is not to be underestimated in Zimbabwe. The well-being, and the fulfilment of adolescent and young women’s full potential depends on our Joint, cohesive action to eliminate this practice. Everyone can play a role in the Action to end Child Marriage. Policy makers, communities, gate keepers, religious and traditional leaders, the Media, the private and public sectors, development and humanitarian actors. Together we must act to ensure a better future for the future leaders of Zimbabwe.”
UN Women Representative, Ms. Fatou Aminata Lo said, “I applaud the recent adoption of legislation setting the legal age for marriage to 18 years. This is a major development that comes as a result of years of evidence-based advocacy and we owe it to the girls of this country to enforce this law so that they can be seen for what they are: girls, not brides, not free labour, not commodities. Girls looking up to us to remove the many obstacles society has put on their pathways.”
Meanwhile, His Excellency Edward Kallon, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Zimbabwe said, “As we mark the Day of the African Child two days ahead of the actual day, allow me to pay tribute to the recent Zimbabwe’s constitutional court ruling that increased the legal age of sexual consent from 16 to 18 years old. The day of the African child is being commemorated under the theme Eliminating Harmful Practices Affecting Children: Progress on Policy and Practice since 2013.
“The Constitutional Court’s ruling, I just alluded to, and the High-Level Political Compact to end violence against women and girls launched end of last year by His Excellency President Emmerson Mnangagwa under the joint UN-EU Spotlight Initiative are examples of progress on policy and practice in Zimbabwe.”
He added that child marriage was a global problem that cuts across countries, cultures, and religions. Unless we accelerate our efforts, according to some estimates 150 million more girls will be married by 2030.
“Child marriage compromises girls’ development and often results in early pregnancy and social isolation. The right to ‘free and full’ consent to a marriage is recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – with the recognition that consent cannot be ‘free and full’ when one of the parties involved is not sufficiently mature to make an informed decision about a life partner.”
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) embody a roadmap for progress that is sustainable and leaves no one behind.