Home » Human Rights » Child Marriage – a View From Farming Communities

Child marriage, also known as early marriage in some instances, is defined as any marriage carried out below the age of 18 years, before the girl or boy is physically, physiologically, and psychologically ready to bear the responsibilities of a marriage.

Child marriage involves either one or both spouses being children or the other spouse being older (especially the man). This child marriage takes place without registration, under religious or customary law practices

Child marriages are common in farm communities.

This is attributed to the historical fact that farming communities are dominated by descendants of migrant workers from Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique.

Traditionally members of these communities undergo initiation process at puberty. This process traditionally confirms that the person is “ripe” for marriage. This is in direct conflict with the country and international laws.

Section 78 of the Zimbabwe constitution states that every person above 18 has the right to found a family and by implication no person under 18 can get married.

The conflict between traditional practices and laws creates confusion within the communities’ elders notwithstanding the fact that ignorance is no defence.

It is common knowledge that child marriage is a violation of human rights that compromise girls’ development, socially, intellectually, physically and economically. Production levels in farm communities have gone down considerably leaving former farm workers unemployed and near destitute.

Families are struggling to survive. Anecdotal information from FOST Zimbabwe indicates that young girls in these areas are considered to be an economic burden to the family. Marrying off the girl child may be considered as an option to reduce the burden.

In any case they are already considered mature enough for marriage traditionally.

Also of concern, child survivors of sexual abuse are also being forced to enter into marriages where the perpetrators offer to marry the child as a way of escaping arrest and conviction.

However from the FOST programming experience in the farming communities although child marriage is seen as a way to escape the cycle of poverty, child marriage in fact worsens the cycle of intergenerational poverty.

It has been noticed that the young girl that gets married off early her chances of having a bright future are severely compromised.

Her education is compromised, increasing the chances of vulnerability to gender based violence in the marriage.

This practice of early marriage is in conflict with modernization and development in society as it seriously undermines a girl child’s opportunities in the future because of lack of education.

The country has enacted a new constitution which is progressive, gender sensitive and child friendly but young girls have continued to fall prey to child marriages.

As tradition, religion, and poverty continue to fuel the practice of child marriage, there is need to step up the fight against child marriage and ensure that the laws put in place are implemented to protect children and that perpetrators of such practices are made accountable for their actions.

Whilst the new Constitution has been adopted, the realignment of the Constitution to the subsidiary laws is still taking place. This has created challenges as some law enforcement and judicial officers and the general public are still using the subsidiary laws which are in contravention of the new Constitution due to lack of awareness.

For instance, as highlighted earlier, the new Constitution provides that a child below 18 cannot be married the Customary Marriages Act provides that a girl child who is aged 16 can be married. However, where there is a conflict between the new Constitution and the subsidiary laws, the provisions of the Constitution override the subsidiary laws.

FOST therefore calls for the popularisation of the provisions in the new Constitution regarding child rights. We also call upon all duty bearers to push for expedience of the harmonisation of the relevant subsidiary laws with the new constitution.

Both authors work with Farm Orphan Support Trust of Zimbabwe (FOST).

For comments and contributions, email: harare@unicef.org.

Source : The Herald