Harare, 02 July 2015 – The United Nations today adds its voice to ongoing calls to end child marriages in Zimbabwe. Child marriages are not only an affront to the dignity and well-being of individual girls; they also deprive nations of the social and economic benefits that derive from an educated and skilled female population.
“I call upon all stakeholders to accelerate efforts to end this harmful practice,” Bishow Parajuli, UN Resident Coordinator in Zimbabwe has said. “The notion that girls, some as young as 12, are fair game for marriage should no longer be condoned in this day and age. Child marriages are not only detrimental to the development and wellbeing of these young girls; they also pose a threat to the very wellspring of this country. We must redouble our efforts to reverse this trend.”
Statistics from the 2014 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey show that 24 per cent of girls aged between 15 to 19 years are married or in a union. A recent analysis of the 2012 National Housing and Population Census by the Zimbabwe Statistics Agency shows that the majority of child marriages occur in rural areas, in districts like Chiredzi, Kariba Rural, Makonde, Mbire, Muzarabani, Sanyati, and Shamva, which have a proportion of above 35%. But child marriages are not restricted to rural areas only. The analysis also shows that almost half of all teenagers in Epworth, an urban area, are married.
“On too many occasions, girls who are married have been rendered vulnerable to HIV infection and deprived of their rights to education and to health, particularly their right to look after their sexual and reproductive health” Mr. Parajuli observes.
The United Nations welcomes the Government’s commitment to aligning existing marriage laws with the constitution, which places the minimum age of founding a family at 18.
“We strongly urge the Government to speed up the process of aligning marriage laws,” said Mr. Parajuli. “This will be a necessary and important step towards eliminating child marriages. It will also bring Zimbabwe’s laws in tandem with its commitments to United Nations resolution on Child, Early and Forced Marriage, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, and the 2015 African Union Common Position on Ending Child Marriage in Africa.”
Noting clear linkages between gender equality, gender based violence and economic growth, UN Women Representative Delphine Serumaga said ensuring the protection of girls and women was a critical human right and economic issue that was directly linked to economic growth and poverty reduction.
“Ending child marriages is not a marginal social or women’s issue only. It has to concern all of us because of its negative impact on social and economic growth,” she said.
Child marriage is a complex and multifaceted challenge which is often driven by economic, social and cultural factors. Combating it requires accelerating successful practices that include supporting community leaders who are proactively coming up with community-driven solutions and addressing the structural causes of child marriage by challenging gender stereotypes and promoting gender equality and equal opportunities for girls and boys.
“These efforts should also be complemented by empowering girls with knowledge on sexual and reproductive health and with the resources to navigate difficult social situations, including coercive relationships,” said UNFPA Representative Cheikh Cisse. “Girls should be encouraged and supported to stay in school but for those who drop out, marriage should not be an option. They should be supported to gain access to skills development,” he said.
UNICEF Representative Reza Hossaini said a quality education that deepens knowledge, promotes a sense of self-worth and expands life skills opens the minds of young people to a world of mutual respect, learning and self-fulfilment.
“Lasting change can be achieved through the provision of quality education to young girls, along with adequate social and legal protection as well as other social services.”
Therefore, let’s work together to end child marriages and all forms of violence against girls. Through the Zimbabwe United Nations Development Assistance Framework, the United Nations remains committed to supporting the Government and people of Zimbabwe in their efforts to end child marriages.
The support from the United Nations includes, but is not limited to, alignment of marriage laws, strengthening the child protection system to track, account and safeguard children from early marriage, social mobilization of communities to address negative social norms, enhancing girls’ retention in schools and access to skills development, and supporting decisive leadership and increased political will at community and national levels.