Food insecurity, elephant in the room in the fight against early marriages

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MICHAEL MAGORONGA in Silobela

Deep down in rural Silobela, 15-year-old Lubalihle, struggles to walk to the nearest clinic for registration of her three months pregnancy.

The nurses at the clinic insist she brings along the owner of the pregnancy for tests, that is when she pours her heart to the nursing staffers.

Luba is the eldest at her home as both her parents are late and the partenal grandmother they had been relying on also passed on a month ago leaving her to fend for her two siblings.

Luba is the one who has been fending for the family even when the grandmother was unwell.

Boys started sneaking into her bedroom as early as when she was 11 years old, in exchange for a few dollars that she would use to buy a few items at home.

Her grandmother had only 2 children, Luba’s father who died when she was still young and his younger brother who ‘vanished’ when he crossed to South Africa soon after completing his Ordinary Level.

In that part of the country, it is normal that boys, dump school, or soon after completing Ordinary Level, either cross to neighboring South Africa or greener pastures or venture into gold mining activities for quick buck.

When they score, they return home where they spend the money on alcohol, drugs and women.

Their targets are those that they cane easily lure with a few dollars for sexual favors and Luba, was a victim.

Luba and the man who impregnated her, parted ways after she leant that she had impregnated and married yet another from 2 pupil from the same village.

She packed her bags and returned to fend for her siblings.

Luba’s predicament is faced by a myriad of girls in Zimbabwe who have not been protected by the law and whose fundamental civil liberties have been violated because of traditional practices and norm.

Zimbabwe has a 33,7 percent prevalence rate of child marriages with 5,4 percent of the girls getting married before they reach the age of 15 years.

2 percent of boys in Zimbabwe are married before their reach 18 yers.

Research carried out by Shamwari Yemwanasikana, a civil organization, revealed that the major drivers of child marriages are girls opting to get married, forced marriage due to cultural and religious practices, poverty, circumstances including teenage pregnancies and poor implementation of laws and policies.

In the National Baseline Survey on the Life Experiences of Adolescent (NBSLEA), conducted by the Zimbabwe National Statics Agency (ZIMSTAT), 41 percent of girls reported that heir sexual debut before 18 years was unwanted.

Girls have been eloping due to poverty exacerbated by the covid-19 induced lockdown period as well as lack of parental guidance among other factors.

A Child Rights Coalition Conference was held recently in the mining town of Kwekwe courtesy of the Zimbabwe National Council for the Welfare of Children (ZNCWC), where it was generally agreed that poverty amongst children was the elephant in the room.

But in an interview, Silobela Chief, Malisa said gold panners where giving them problems as they preyed on the hungry children.

“Most families this side are child headed and they are suffering from hunger. Most parents would have gone to South Africa or they died and what remains are the children who then will be forced into early marriages as they scavenge for food. Gold panners take the advantage and pounce on them as they lure them with money and as a result, they are impregnated and if they are lucky, they are married,” said Chief Malisa.

He said the cases are so rampant that it has become a norm that girls start being sexually active at a tender age.

During the annual meeting, it was revealed that six junior councilors for the district were impregnated during the covid-19 lockdown.

In a side interview, ZNCWC Board Chair, Dr Lamiel Phiri expressed disgust over the development saying it points back to the issue of poverty which was exacerbated by covid-19 pandemic.

He said government should priorities food secure vulnerable in distribution of food handouts.

“There was a lockdown and food has been distributed but most vulnerable children, especially child headed ones, have been left behind. If government works together with development partners, should take into cognizance the vulnerability of children. It is an issue that they should prioritise because they have no copying mechanisms,” said Dr Phiri.

Dr Phiri also said the national Civil Protection Unit should address the element of food security amongst children as it was pushing them into early sexual activities.

“Some of the children are pushed by circumstances and I think government should address that component of food security through the CPU,” he said.

Buhera Central Constituency legislator Honorable Dr Matthew Nyashanu who is the current chair of the parliamentary caucus on rights and welfare of children also weighed in saying government should act on tradition and the sprouting of churches.

“Poverty and child marriages are not new things; they have been there for a long time now. That is not to say the situation is not bad, the situation is very bad although I am of a different opinion,” he said.

He said government should move to reign in sprouting of churches where various doctrines are being spread leading to crimes.

“Under every tree there is a church and as a society we are not aware what is being preached under that tree. That is where various doctrines that denigrate into crime are being spread,” he said.

He also said there is need for political will to reign in traditional practices like chimutsamapfiwha that encourages early marriages.

Ending early marriages in our communities takes all of us and it is critical that everyone play their part as we are all participants in raising one child.