I am a man, I call for an end to forced child marriages

Oliver Mtukudzi Special Correspondent
The Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe declared child marriages unconstitutional in 2017. This has a positive impact on many young girls’ physical and psychological well-being as well as their life choices. Empowering young women is not only a moral obligation, it lays the foundation for a more healthy and prosperous society in which women and men are equal citizens.

Fathers, grandfathers and all Zimbabwean men have to stand up against child marriages. Men and boys have a huge responsibility in stopping forced marriages. Almost 1 in 3 girls (33 percent of women aged 20-49 were first married or in union before age 18), that is; while they were children.

Furthermore, 24,5 percent of girls aged 15-19 years are currently married or in union while only 1,7 percent of boys in the same age group are married or in union. Evidence suggests that the majority of these marriages are formalised through customary procedures such as the payment of lobola. I urge you to remember the words of my song “Haasati Aziva”: “You can’t pledge your child in marriage.”

Forced child marriage is both a symptom of poverty and a conduit through which it is perpetuated, as some families that struggle to provide for their children view early marriage as a way out of their difficulties.

However, girls who are married early are deprived of the opportunity to further their education which is an essential tool in changing girls’ well-being. This year’s theme is the role child marriages play in preventing girls from attaining necessary skills that would equip them to be economically and socially independent.

Early marriages also lead to early teen pregnancies, and when children are young they should not become mothers. Complications increase with young mothers leading to a high number of unsafe abortions as well as child-mother and child mortality rates.

It must be recognised that laws alone cannot eliminate child marriage: the underlying causes of child marriage such as poverty need to be remedied. The cost of schooling is one such area which the Government should examine to what extent the reach of free education could prevent child marriages.

The Government, communities and civil society organisations need to work together in shifting cultural, religious and social norms that promote child marriages.

It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that all children are given a chance to live their lives protected from violence and exploitation. All parents should enjoy and celebrate seeing their girl children learning, surviving and thriving in an environment that gives them equal chances at family and societal levels.

I certainly do.

While I call on men and boys to lead the fight against the scourge of forced child marriages, I also have encouraging words to grandmothers, mothers and sisters, as I sang in “Neria”: “Don’t give up in standing up for your rights. No one must make you live like a slave at any stage of your life. God is with you on this journey, your liberation journey!”

Oliver Mtukudzi is a prominent Zimbabwean musician whose music addresses social issues.

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