BY NHAU MANGIRAZI
FOURTEEN-YEAR-OLD Maidei Changa (not her real name) struggled to breastfeed her two-month-old baby.
Maidei missed Form One at a nearby secondary school in ward 10 under Chief Hozhele in Sanyati after falling pregnant last year and is now a member of a child-headed family.
She is a sad reality gripping the outlying areas where most girls were trapped into early marriages in Mashonaland West province and most parts of the country.
Maidei said she was enticed into a marriage that did not last.
‘‘I got married early as a gateway to a better life than what I was used to back home. My family members still look forward to me for virtually everything. They would demand financial support from my husband. This drove him away from taking responsibility of his child, my brothers and sisters,’’ she said.
Maidei fell pregnant after dating a gold panner last year.
Her “marriage” is a script of poverty and child marriages authored by society owing to poverty and economic challenges bedevilling the country.
Sanyati is among worst affected communities in terms of forced marriages, according to Berina Arts director Lloyd Mujuru.
‘‘Our research has revealed that Sanyati is one of the worst affected rural communities where young girls are married early when gold panners lure them with money,’’ he said.
Maidei is now part of early marriage statistics that are “harmful”.
‘‘I was lured into unprotected sex with a gold panner. I never saw him after I told him that I was pregnant. My brothers doing Grade Seven and Five are looking to me for their upkeep even though I am not working,’’ Maidei said.
In a move aimed at curbing early marriages, a joint programme on partnership on prevention of violence against women and girls being implemented by Gender and Media Connect, Padare/Enkundleni Men’s Forum, Berina Arts and the Women Affairs, Community Small and Medium Scale Enterprises ministry in Sanyati.
The programme covers wards 10 and 12 aimed on primary prevention of child marriages.
Padare/Enkundleni Men’s Forum programme officer Meseli Nyoni said driving forces for early marriages include poverty, lack of knowledge, harmful cultural and religious
“School dropouts, especially during COVID-19-induced lockdown fuelled forced marriages, where literacy level negatively affected and disempowered the girl child,’’ Nyoni said.
Mashonaland West proportional representative Member of Parliament, Josephine Shava confirmed that gold panners were targeting underage girls for marriage.
“We welcome this programme to help our children, mostly girls, so that they are not deprived the right to education and be married when they are mature,’’ Shava said.
“Our communities must protect child-headed families that must be under the custody of traditional leadership. It is unfortunate that we are witnessing social decay where gold panners lure these young girls into early marriages. Some are too young to be married.’’
“There are some churches that still marry off young girls and deprive them of their right to education. This must be deterred through long-term jail terms,” Shava said.
Nyoni said there was need for unified efforts to curb forced marriages.
“We need to be united to fight early marriages. There is need for a holistic approach involving everyone from the community, government, private sector, religious and traditional leaders. There is need to economically empower the girl child with credible information on the impact of child marriages,” Nyoni said.
A Research and Advocacy Unit report titled Married too Soon in Zimbabwe reveals that payment of lobola remains a closely guarded family affair.
“The family is the custodian of culture and some cultural practices such as the payment of lobola often expose the girl child to other harmful practices such as child marriage. Culture continues to be the most dominant force. In Zimbabwe, for example, the cultural practice of paying lobola is still going strong despite outcries that the practice treats women as commodities in the market place,” the report read in part.
According to a United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) 2012 report, poverty remains one of the major drivers of early marriages in rural Zimbabwe.
The report says Zimbabwe is among countries with high child marriage prevalence rates in the world, where on average one out of three girls are married off before their 18th birthday.
About 31% of women aged 20-24 were married or were in union before the age of 18, according to UNFPA 2012 report.
Another joint research by UNFPA and ZimStat in 2014 revealed that 15% women and 0,3 % men aged 15-49 years were first married or entered into a union before the age of 15 years.
Child marriage prevalence is highest in Mashonaland Central (50%), followed by Mashonaland West (42%), Masvingo (39%), Mashonaland East (36%), Midlands (31%), Manicaland, (30%), Matabeleland North (27%), Harare (19%), Matabeleland South (18%) and Bulawayo (10%), according to the UNFPA 2012 report.
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