EARLY GIRL CHILD MARRIAGES
From the focused group discussion, it was evident that in some cases, early marriages were triggered by unplanned pregnancies and forced marriages which parents planned or when a child after coming home late is forced to go away and stay with the boyfriend she was with. Such marriages it was noted were the most difficult ones because the girl in most cases was being imposed on a man who had no interest in marrying them altogether. Among those who were married, they generally found life difficult because, in most cases they suffered abuse from both the husband and the in-laws who did not realise that the bride was too young, immature and still wanting to grow.
Below are testimonies from some of the girls.
I was orphaned when I was very young. None of my relatives from both my paternal and maternal relatives wanted to take me to live with them. As a result I used to move from one place to another. So, when I turned 14, I was fed up of with my life so I decided to get married. I believed that marriage would give me stability and a sense of belonging.
When my parents died, none of my relatives took me, a neighbour, who was my parents friends took me and raised me for a while until the husband said that he did not want me to stay with them. That was the end of my education. For a while, I lived on the street but life on the street was very difficult since I lived daily with the fear of being physically, emotionally and mentally abused and worse still, being raped. Life on the streets is difficult for a girl child.
Then, oneday I met a man who fell in love with me. I accepted because I believed all my problems would come to an end as I would have a better place to live and being with someone who cared for me. Because I feared rejection, I gave in to his demands of sex and soon we lived as husband and wife.
Months passed by and when it was the ninth month, I gave birth at Kuwadzana clinic. Thankfully, I had a normal birth; I did not develop any complications despite my tender age. My child survived but she had serious complications, complications which contributed immensely to a fall out between my husband and I. my child, Panashe (not real name) was disabled; she did not have fingers in both hands.
My child as a result of the disability cannot touch or use her hands. She also did not have toes on both legs. Moreover, she has a lump on her right eye. This affected her eyesight as pus excessively came out of the lump every time. Her mouth has a cleft which made it impossible for her to chew vegetables and other solid foods. Panashe also did not have a vaginal opening meaning she was not going to be able to menstruate when she reached puberty. The doctors said she needed an urgent operation to correct the abnormalities. They needed about $2 000 and I could not afford it because I am unemployed.
My husband would insult me on a daily basis. I recall the incident when he went to the extremes by shouting at our child saying “I hate you and that is why you are disabled". He never showed her the love she deserved as a child. This traumatized me so much and my child was growing up with a low self esteem.
My husband became unfaithful to me and took another wife where he now spends most of his time. He hardly looks after me and the child. I have too many problems in my life and I don’t know what to do.
My daughter’s name is called Mary. She got pregnant when she was 14 years old and gave birth at the age of 15. According to the United Nations, in Zimbabwe, almost 31% or a third of the girls are married before their 18th birthday and 4% before they turn 15 and typically ends her chances of proceeding with her education as in the case of Mary.
I did not realise that Mary was pregnant until she was past her third month. She was gaining weight and she would vomit every time she ate eggs yet as she was growing, eggs were her favourite food. I became worried because I thought that there was something wrong with her. I decided to take her to see the family doctor who performed several tests. He asked us to wait in the reception area and would call us as soon as the results were out.
When we returned back into the doctors rooms he did not waste time to inform us that indeed my daughter was pregnant. I almost fainted. My daughter had just finished her ‘O’ level and passed with flying colours. We had already secured a place for her for form five. Mary’s dream was to be an electrical engineer.
Mary could not look at me in the face with shame and it was clear that she had not expected such news either. She started to cry in front of the doctor. As I sat in that room listening to the doctor and what we had to do, I started to blame myself. It was all because of me, I was overwhelmed with guilt. I felt I had failed my daughter by not explaining to her the importance of looking after oneself and the consequences of early pregnancy and marriages and in particular about the issue of unprotected sex in relation not only to having an unwanted child but also in terms of contracting sexually transmitted diseases like HIV/AIDS. As the doctor explained to us that they would take an HIV test since my daughter was pregnant and if she tested positive, they would put her on ARV prophylaxis which they explained would prevent mother to child transmission of the virus.
My daughter’s education abruptly came to an end. I worry about too many things. What are people saying behind our backs? I am one of those people who was strongly opposed to the introduction of contraceptives to young children but then whether we like it or not as parents, these children are already sexually active before they are 18years old. My attitude towards the introduction of contraceptives to children before they turn 18 has changed. I say, yes, let’s talk to them about contraceptives and let us make sure that they have access to the contraceptives because they are becoming sexually active at an early age. The question is, at what age these contraceptives should be made available to them, 13, 14 or 15. That, we can debate, but it has to be before they turn 18.
It is important to educate our children about safe sex and the importance of using contraceptives than living them to destroy their future and risk their health. Now, I tell my friends that we should talk to our daughters about safe sex. However, for Mary it’s too late, she is now a mother and a wife and her husband is unemployed. I am heartbroken.
In Zimbabwe the debate at what age contraceptives should be made available to young girls goes on with others arguing that the age of majority is 18 years so contraceptives should be introduced at 18 while others are advocating for 16 years as the most appropriate age. Advantages of using contraceptives apart from preventing early child pregnancy is that it reduces blood loss in women with heavy periods, reduces period pains, protects women and girls against ovarian and large bowel cancers, unwanted pregnancies and reduced maternal mortality for the under 16.
The Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council acknowledges that youths between 16 and 24 are more vulnerable to early pregnancies. What is the Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council advocating for to help end early child pregnancies leading to early marriages of those below 18 years old?
In this community we have both early child marriage as a problem as well as the situation of young girls who just get pregnant and most of them with sugar daddies who are married and once they discover that the girl is pregnant they refuse responsibility and in some cases if the girl child decides to elope, she is subjected to a lot of abuse from both the man and his wife.
My neighbours daughter, Ruth dropped school unexpectedly and tongues in the neighbourhood started waging. When asked why she was not going to school, she would lie, telling all of us that her father could not afford to pay the fees. She developed a queer character, often gloomy, rough and had unpredictable temper.
I started to be suspicious when I observed that she would tie her stomach very tightly in-order to disguise her growing stomach. Since I was close to her mother, and a neighbour too, I approached her mother and explained to her my concerns and suspicions. Her mother sat her down with us and at that time she was open to us divulging that the father of her unborn child was a married man and they planned to marry.
Fearing that she would be subjected to ill treatment and abuse by the wife of this man, we discouraged her from eloping. Because Ruth’s parents had limited means, she had to deliver at home because they did not have funds to register her for antenatal clinic and delivery. She therefore had no idea about her HIV status and hence if she were positive had therefore missed an opportunity to prevent mother to child transmission of the disease since she had no access to ARV prophylaxis as well as risking the health of the woman who attended to her delivery since she was an untrained midwifery with no protective materials to use.
Ruth told us the labour was prolonged and was painful. Luckily enough, both mother and child survived. The child is not healthy and suffers from human papilloma virus which causes warts and as a result the child has to be operated every month. The medical bills are too much for her parents who have limited means but then, they cannot leave the child suffering, so it’s a financial burden to the family. The father of the child now does not want to take responsibility of his child.
What is human papilloma virus? It is a sexually transmitted disease which either causes warts or puts their victims at a high risk of developing cancer. It occurs around the anus, mouth or throat. Children of untreated mothers can be infected at birth and this can infect there genital and respiratory systems, throat and larynx leaving these children at high risk of also developing laryngeal cancer. Treatment of either anal warts or genital warts is long and protracted hence a financial burden to the girl child or child mothers who generally have limited or no adequate financial resources. Among the child mothers, cancer of the cervix is a major health concern.
Maria got married when she was 15 years old. She never had an opportunity to go to school. Now let Maria tell us her story.
Once my breasts had developed it was a signal that I was ripe for marriage. I came from a poor family as a result I did not have an opportunity to go to school because we did not have the money and education did not have any value to us. My parents could not read or write and our family was big, as a result we never used to have enough food and both my mother and father were too busy looking for money to clothe us or to buy food as a result we lacked parental guidance. It is not surprising that I got married before my 15th birthday as if that was not enough; my own daughter also got married before she turned 16 because she also did not have an opportunity to go to school. What I looked forward to was marriage just as much as my own daughter and the signal was always the same, how the breasts were developed. My daughter, Rhoda has now four children and each with a different father having married more than three times already and Sally, my granddaughter also gave birth at the age of 16. Because I never had enough resources to educate my daughter since she has also been married a couple of times to people of limited means, she has not been able to educate her children. Actually, we have not come to appreciate the importance of education since we believe that marriage is the biggest achievement that a woman can attain.
One thing that seems to have struck my daughter and granddaughter is that they have lost children during delivery. Because they had children when they were young they developed complications during delivery. However, we believed that it was witchcraft. To make matters worse, we never had enough money to go for antenatal clinic and all the children were delivered by inexperienced older women. I attended to both my daughter and grandchild.
We noted that since all the three women mentioned above had not attended antenatal clinic they all had not been able to accesses health facility initiated HIV testing and counselling. If anyone of these women is HIV positive they therefore missed an opportunity of accessing life saving ARV prophylaxis reduce the chance of transmitting the HIV virus to their new born baby and to improve their own health.
Child marriage results in a vicious cycle of poverty and those involved have no opportunities of coming out of it and with no education it is perpetuated and each generation believing that early marriage is the answer to their problems. Under such circumstances some of the women resort to having many children with the hope that she could be lucky and have a child who could transform their lives through good luck. The girls, born in adjunct poverty would sometime opt to marry early in the hope of running away from their poverty. However, they seemed never able to escape hence the vicious circle of poverty which is perpetuated.
My name is Maud. My mother died when I was only 10 years old and my father remarried. My stepmother used to ill treat me. Oneday, my father told me that I could not continue with my education because he did not have the money for fees. I stayed home and life became more difficult for me. I decided to live home and look for work as a housemaid.
I worked as a housemaid for 11 months. I had my boyfriend who had promised to marry me after he had saved for the lobola. The woman i was working for used to go to south Africa often. She was a cross-border. She would buy things in south Africa for resale here and then go to South Africa with some crochet for resale there, So she would spend several days sometimes two or three weeks away at a time. I would remain looking after the children, cooking and cleaning the house. It was hard work or me but I had no choice. It was better than going back to live with my father and my step mother who was mean.
Oneday, when the children were at school, my employer came and forced himself on me. He promised to raise my salary if I did not tell anyone. It was painful and I did not know what to do. So I continued working for him and he would demand sex from me although he knew that I had my boyfriend. Then I got pregnant. His wife noticed that my belly was growing. So she asked me the position and how long I was going to continue working for them before eloping to my boyfriend. This is when she discovered that her husband was the father of my unborn child. She was furious and decided to leave her husband.
My employer then tried to persuade me to go to my boyfriend and tell him he was responsible. My boyfriend refused on the grounds that the pregnancy could not be his since he had not been around at the time of my pregnancy. So i was stuck.
Since he was tossing me up and down, I decided to tell my father the whole story. My father went to speak with him and he eventually gave in. So he decided to take me as his wife.
I was at church when I started to deliver. The people at our church attended to me. For three days, I was in labour. My child was delivered after such a long labour and I lost alot of blood. After my delivery I would bleed for two days and would stop for a day or two and it would start again. I developed anaemia and would feel dizzy most of the time. He is also very abusive and I still continue with the same duties I used to do before he married me.
In Zimbabwe, child labour is a problem. There are many children engaged in child labour in particular in the agriculture and mining sectors. Many girls are however engaged in domestic work and the degree of exploitation is high and unacceptable. However, there is legislation that prohibits child labour, The Labour Relations ACT (Chapter28:01), Children’s ACT (Chapter5:6) which provides for the provision welfare and supervision of children. However, due to the breakdown of the family due to HIV/AIDS, many children have to work for survival and in some cases due to the harsh economic situation, the children cannot go to school and there are no social delivery system to cushion them. However, UNICEF manages a cash transfer program that encourages families to keep children in school while the European commission and the Governments of the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK provides food and health services to high –risk families, including child-headed households, and provides services for child victims f abuse violence and exploitation which is complimented by Basic Education Assistance Module supported by the UK Department for International Development which provides basic financial assistance to families for education costs such as tuition and fees. The aim being to keep children in school and enrol children who lack access to school as a result of the economic hardships. However, advocate for free education for all until 18 to help stop child marriages.
My name is Ongai, I come from Chitungwiza. I am 16years old and I consider myself an orphan because my mother dumped me at my paternal grandmother when I was only 2 years old and never came back and my father, who was of no fixed aboard and a drunkard died a couple of months later after a short illness. The little I know about my mother and father is what I have been told by my grandmother or some relatives.
Now, let granny tell us the story.
My son got married to Julia when she was only 16 years old. Although I accepted Julia as my daughter-in-law, their marriage was not stable. They used to quarrel and fight alot, so, oneday, my daughter in law ran away with my granddaughter. We where afraid that she might harm herself and the child because she had left in frustration after being severly beaten by her husband. So, for several days, we searched for them but they were nowhere to be found. One day, while I was at my rural home in Rusape, were i used to spend most of my time since I had rented out my house so that I could have some money to live on, I received a message that my baby grandchild had been dumped at my house in Chitungwiza. I had to travel to Chitungwiza to take care of my grandchild.
I am HIV positive and not fit enough to be gainfully employed so I have struggled to raise my grandchild. I am a widow. Unfortunately, when I was no-longer in a position to pay her fees, she had to drop school.
My grandmother because of her poor health, has since relocated to Chitungwiza and still rents out a few rooms which funds are not sufficient to cater for our basic needs and to send me to school. She supplements what she earns from the rentals by knitting. The profit margin is very small. Now, I spend my time just playing with friends on the street. I have no idea what happed to my mother. I sometimes wonder whether my mother is still alive or dead. There is no communication either with anyone from my maternal relatives.
Ongai is not only a product of early child marriage but also suffers from fits and constantly complains of stomach and painful legs. However, she has to endure the pain since her grandmother cannot afford to pay for the medical costs for her treatment. .
My name is Runako and I got married when i was 16 years old. My husband was 29 years old. I was in love with my husband and oneday he invited me to his house. We had a good time and then we lost track of time. It was late for me to go home so my boyfriend and her relatives persuaded me to stay the night. I thought I was going to either spend the night in my own room or with her sisters but while I was sleeping in one of the bedrooms, John came to the room and we eventually had sex. I bled and realised that he had broken my virginity.
The following day, my boyfriend said that there was no need to go back home and I agreed. However, when my parents discovered what had happened, they came looking for me and then made a police report because the child according to them was under age. There were alot of arguments and when the police asked what I wanted, I told them that I wanted to remain with my boyfriend as his wife. So the police told my parents that in that case my husband did not have a case to answer.
It took me more than a year to get pregnant. My in-laws started to blame me and accusing me of infertility. I was young and did not know what to do. I became depressed. I eventually got pregnant when I was 17 and delivered before I turned 18 years old. I wasted for HIV/AIDS Harare hospital for C-section but they managed to cut to increase the birth canal. It was a very painful labor. My child survived.
My husband sometimes in not loving so he actually forces me to have sex with him. I have no education and source of income. I have to ask him for money for everything and it is very frustrating because sometimes he gives me. I now regret that I should have listened to my parents when they insisted that I go back to school married or not.
Chiedza is a victim of our laws which are not in sync hence the need to advocate for the alignment of our laws to the Constitution. Under General Law in Zimbabwe, boys can marry at 18 and girls at 16. This law discriminates and violates the rights of the girl child. The criminal codification ACT states that a girl at 12 and boy at 16 cannot consent to sex and sex with a girl of 12 or boy of 16 is considered as statutory rape yet under Customary Marriage Act there is no minimum age for marriage. The Marriage Act states that a girl can marry at 16 and a boy at 18. There is therefore need to align our laws with the constitution which gives 18 as the age of majority. The alignment of the law alone is not sufficient; mechanisms should also be put in place to enforce the law for it to bear fruit.
My name is Jane. I never had an opportunity to go to school because my parents were poor and they also believed that educating a girl child was a waste of time. The best a girl child could do was to find a husband and get married. So, it is not surprising that I got married soon after developing breasts because that was a signal that I was ready and ripe for marriage. My father married me off to one of his old friends who was considered in our community as wealthy.
Jane got married when she was about 17 years old. It was a polygamous marriage and the man was more than twenty years older than her. Her husband then divorced her first wife and latter married two more girls. Jane gave birth to three children and complications only sufficed when she was delivering her fourth child. She had a long labor for more than three days and when she got to the hospital, it was too late for the child. She delivered a still born child.
I had a good time before my husband married two more wives. Also his wealth started to dwindle. Since I was totally dependent on him, my life was very difficult for me. My situation worsened because after giving birth I had bleed profusely and latter noticed that urine would continually come out. I used cloths, t-shirts and small pieces of blankets. The cloths reeked very much and I could not afford to buy detergents to wash them. I could not sit because the urine would soak on whatever item I sat on. I used to attend funerals in the afternoon only and never slept there. I was shy because everywhere I slept, blankets would get wet. In view of these challenges, my husband no longer slept in our bedroom. He went to the other wives and started discriminating me on grounds of the problem that I had. To add to my troubles, I stroked.
I was taken to Chidamoyo Hospital in Kariba and then was refered to Harare Hospital where I was told that I had Vesico Vaginal Fistula. My husband had since left me. He said I did not deserve him.
Oneday, I was listening to the radio when I heard about Women and Health Alliance (WAHA) and the operations they were carrying out on women who had similar conditions like mine. I came here, to Chinhoyi hospital and got operated. It’s a miracle. It’s like having my life back, being born again. However, I lost my husband but at least I am now fit to work and look after my children.
Many girls and women in Zimbabwe live with the disease Obstetric Fistula in secrecy. This is mostly common among children who get pregnant when they are too young and in some cases to women who fail to get assistance on time. Obstetric Fistula is a childbirth injury which has received little attention since it is considered as a disease of poverty. I t is caused when a girl or woman undergoes prolonged, obstructed labour without timely medical intervention. The baby’s head then presses on the mothers pelvic bone damaging soft tissue ad creating a hole either between and vagina and the bladder or vagina and the rectum resulting in continuous flow of either faeces or urine. This injury however can be treated by surgery which is out of reach to most of these individuals.