via Zimbabwe: Scourge of Child Marriage | Human Rights Watch Zimbabwe: Scourge of Child Marriage
- Publicly support law reform to make 18 the minimum marriage age.
- Finalize, in consultation with nongovernmental groups and affected communities, a comprehensive national action plan to end child marriage.
To the Ministries of Justice and of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development
- Take necessary legislative steps to harmonize marriage laws to make 18 the minimum marriage age, and ensure that the laws require free and full consent of both spouses, requirements for proof of age before marriage licenses are issued, and imposes penalties on anyone who intimidates, threatens, or harms anyone who refuses to marry.
- Provide regular training for police and prosecutors on their legal responsibilities to investigate and prosecute violence against women, including child marriage.
- Withdraw opposition to the lawsuit by victims of child marriage before the constitutional court seeking the criminalization of child marriage and a ruling to set 18 as the minimum marriage age.
- Facilitate the provision of shelters, legal services, and other support mechanisms to protect girls from child marriage and to support those currently in child marriage and those turned away by their families.
- Initiate local and national awareness campaigns that provide information to parents, guardians, religious leaders, and community leaders about the harmful effects of child marriage, emphasizing the health risks of early pregnancy and HIV transmission and the benefits of girls’ education.
- Adapt and adopt best practices from other countries to empower girls, for example by providing girls with safe spaces, economic incentives and support to families in need, information about the harm of child marriage and about sexual and reproductive health, and life skills training.
- Support and strengthen initiatives by local groups and the Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe to combat child marriage.
- Develop retention strategies to help prevent child marriage and to keep married girls in school, such as providing incentives for families to keep girls in school, scholarships, expanded school feeding programs, adequate sanitation facilities, and life skills programs for married girls through targeted outreach and support programs, and evening or part-time formal schooling and vocational training opportunities.
- Empower girls and boys with information and knowledge about their reproductive and sexual rights by introducing a comprehensive sexuality education curriculum.
- Ensure access to reproductive health information and services for adolescents.
Confidence S., 22:
I was 14 years-old when I got married to a 42-year-old man who had a wife already. My aunt who was looking after me said I should get married to the man because he was rich and would look after me. But he was very abusive; he did not allow me to leave the house to visit friends or go to the shops. He always suspected me of having younger boyfriends. I was in form 2 [in secondary school] and pregnant when he married me. I stopped going to school. At that time girls who fell pregnant were expelled from school.
After me he married two more wives. His other wives did not want me – they chased me away but when I tried to go back to my family my aunt and mother also turned me away saying they had already accepted lobola (bride price) from him. When I went back to him, his other wives would fight me. He used to beat me and shout at me. He refused to let me continue with school. After two years of marriage, life was so difficult for me that I tried to kill myself by drinking rat poison. I was in hospital for one week after which my family finally took me back. Child marriage ruined my life. Now I do not work and cannot find a job because I stopped going to school.
Abigail C., 15:
I fell pregnant last year when I was 14-years-old. I had stopped going to school that same year because my mother, who works as a maid earning US$50 per month, could not afford to send me to school. I had an affair with an older man who had a wife. The woman who lives next door is the one who persuaded me to have an affair with this man. I received no sex education at all, and when I had sex with this man I fell pregnant. I went to live with his mother because he was staying with his first wife. In June I went to hospital and gave birth to a baby, who died within a few minutes of birth. The nurses told me my baby died. After that I went back to live with my mother. I wish to go back to school because I am still a child.
Rutendo C., 16:
I stopped going to school last year when in grade 7 because my parents did not have money to send me to school. One day after I had stopped going to school my grandfather saw me in the fields having sex with my boyfriend, who was 25-years-old. He went and told my parents to send me away to get married to my boyfriend. My parents did not want to send me away but he forced them saying, “You cannot keep a child who has been defiled; she has had sex and she must go.” So I went and lived with him as his wife, we are still together and I am 8-months pregnant now.
Justine T., 38:
When I was 16 I met a young man who I talked to about my problems. He was very understanding. We had sex. I didn’t know that I would get pregnant. But that’s what happened. That’s the reason why I stopped going to school. When you are pregnant, you are not allowed to continue with school [a policy that was later revised to allow pregnant girls to continue with school]. At home, they also don’t want you there. They told me to go to and live with the person who made me pregnant.
At that time I didn’t know anything about sex. Nobody gave me any sex education. If I knew about it I wouldn’t have fallen pregnant…It was 1998. I was pregnant. My husband came home drunk and started shouting at me. I was angry and I shouted back at him, then he beat me up. I was very hurt and became angry. That’s what caused me to do what I did. I poured paraffin all over my body and set myself on fire. Then I woke up in hospital. I am trapped in this situation. I am failing to find work to support myself and my family. My children have stopped going to school because we cannot afford to send them to school.
Agnes N., 19:
I got married when I was 16. One day I was late coming from school and my grandmother who looked after me saw me standing with my boyfriend when it was nearly getting dark, about 6 p.m. Later when I got home she told me to go back to my boyfriend and I did. I stopped going to school, but my husband who was at the same school continued and failed his exams. He stayed with his sister who was abusive to me, she wanted me to go back to my family; she blamed me for his failure in school.
Later I fell pregnant and his uncle tried to force me to abort but I refused. My husband neglected me. Sometimes I went without food, and tried to go back to my family but my grandmother would not take me back. Eventually she took me back; I gave birth at my grandmother’s house. Life is difficult for me because am not working and the father of my child has never supported his son.
Rosemary M., 19:
I was 15 when I got married. I was pregnant at the time. I had already stopped school in grade 4 when both my parents died. My husband would beat me and he had many girlfriends and did not look after me. When I gave birth my baby died after four days. I got pregnant again but the baby died after four months. His mother chased me away saying she wanted grandchildren but my babies were dying. Whenever my husband beat me she would say, “Beat her some more! When she feels the pain she will leave.”
My brothers refused to take me back saying marriage was my choice so I must live with it. At that point I thought of drowning myself to end my suffering, but I then decided against it. He got another wife saying he did not want a childless wife. Later I gave birth to a baby girl who is now 7-months-old but he does not support me and his child. My sister looks after me and my child.
Munesu C., 16:
I am 16, I ran away from home to get married when I was 14 after I had sex with my boyfriend, who was 21. I was afraid my family would discover that I had had sex so I went to live with my boyfriend as his wife. I was in grade 7 at the time and stopped going to school. After about 7 months my husband and his three brothers began to complain that I was not getting pregnant. He never beat me but always complained that I was barren. I used to do a lot of hard work washing clothes, cleaning and cooking for my husband and his relatives. After two years of marriage he sent me away saying I am barren, and my mother took me back. My wish is to go back to school but my mother cannot afford to send me back to school.
Chamwa M., midwife in the Johwane Masowe Shonhiwa Apostolic faith church:
Our church doctrine is that girls must marry when they are between 12 and 16-years-old to make sure they do not sin by having sexual relations outside marriage. As soon as a girl reaches puberty, any man in the church can claim her for a wife. A man is allowed to have as many wives as he can manage, and as many children as he wants. All pregnant mothers give birth at home; going to hospital or using modern medicine is prohibited. Use of contraceptives or other family planning methods is also prohibited – only God can plan families and God’s commandment was “Be fruitful and multiply.”
We have prophets in our church who will know if anyone in the church disobeys the rules and goes to hospital to seek medication or uses contraceptives like pills or condoms. When a man says God has shown him in a dream that he should marry a certain girl, that girl cannot say no to the word of God. If she says no, God’s curse will be upon her life; she may fail to find a husband for the rest of her life, or she could be barren for the rest of her life.
Archbishop Johannes Ndanga, president of the Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe (ACCZ), a coalition of over 1,000 apostolic churches in the country. The coalition is campaigning to end child marriage. He said:
We are trying to change, and stop child marriage in our churches, but we face a lot of resistance from some churches who hold on to many beliefs that justify exploitation of girls. For example, virginity testing and polygamy is widely practiced in our Apostolic faith churches – I too, before I got to know about human rights, I used to enforce virginity testing in the church that I lead. Girls as young as 12 years would be checked for virginity by church elders, and if found to be virgins they would get marks on their foreheads to show they are virgins. Older men in the church would then choose these “fresh girls” to become their wives, often joining polygamous unions. If a man marries a woman who is not a virgin, she is required to find a virgin girl for her husband to marry as compensation.
We are facing strong and sometimes violent resistance from some of our member churches who continue with harmful practices of child marriage and abuse. In May 2014, after we received reports of abuse of young girls at the church, we asked the police to help us shut down a member church… The church members resisted and used sticks to beat up nine police officers, journalists, and ACCZ officials.
Joshua M., elder in the Zion Apostolic Church:
We continue to allow a man to marry many wives in our church but now support the ACCZ campaign to end child marriage. The problem is that girls and women are not allowed to speak in church, and cannot question church doctrine, and this perpetuates their abuse and lack of rights. If a man stands up in church and says God showed him in a dream that he should marry a certain girl, then that is God’s commandment which must be obeyed. Girls become afraid to disobey God. Our church has pledged to stop child marriage in our church.
Chief Chiveso, traditional leader from Mashonaland Central Province:
Traditional leaders in Mashonaland Central province have come together to campaign to end child marriage. In cases where young girls who are, say, 14 or 15-years-old, and get married in our communities, we summon the man to the traditional court and also refer the case to the police. We do not know how the police deal with such cases, but at the traditional court we sometimes ask the man to compensate the father of the girl child, and if the girl is not pregnant she goes back to school. We encourage pregnant girls to go back to school but sometimes it is not possible due to poverty.