I come from a society that believes in punishment rather than rehabilitation, a society that believes in reactionary methods of dealing with challenges rather than trying to prevent them, a society that is more in denial than accepts reality, and in so doing, would learn how to deal with them. And that is just the shame of it. Child marriage is sadly a scourge and the fight to end it has got to be very deep and, like a boil, it must be painfully ‘squeezed out from the root’. In a society where women are commodities to be owned, girls tend to be the ‘highest prized” of these commodities meant to help “turn around” the economic woes of families. Families sell their girl children, be it to be (cheap) labour or into marriage- to men who violate these young innocents’ childhood. The Customary Marriages Act which looks at all customary marriages in the country does not even have an age limit as to what age people can get married, so a lot of young girls are married off under “customary marriages” and the law cannot do anything to punish those who abuse young girls in such scenarios.
It is fair and fine to look at marriage within the customary settings but I want to particularly look at child marriages in the modern set up where school going girls are impregnated by one person or the other and are forced out of school and sent packing into marriages they did not want or even think about. Child marriage, also known as early marriage, can be defined as “Any marriage carried out below the age of 18 years, before the girl is physically, physiologically, and psychologically ready to shoulder the responsibilities of marriage and childbearing.” I have followed a lot of debates on how “fast” or kuda zvinhu our young girls have become. I get it that we are a prude and uptight society that frowns upon sexual intercourse by women. I get it BUT…how then do we help these young in-school girls, at the peak of raging hormones and are that age where experimenting and exploration is rivalled by that of babies? Young people are having sex and my society had better accept this fact and deal with it. I am one of those who applauds the minister who wants condoms in schools as well as applaud those teens at the recent nude party who were found in possession of condoms. That means that these kids are better prepared to engage in safer sex than be at the risk of such dangers as teenage pregnancy, which I view to be one of the number one reasons for child marriage.
I want to pose a series of questions:
If a baby loves the flickering of flames, do we leave that baby to play with it or we remove it from harm’s way? Do we punish a baby for their being attracted to flames? How come we child-proof homes why can we not ‘adult-proof’ our teens? Sex and pregnancy is meant for adults yet we do not talk to our teens about it but somehow expect them to just not indulge. We have a society that believes that whole grown men, heads of homes and even leaders in various circles, are incapable of controlling their sexual urges, how then do we expect these young people to be able to do what adults fail and are expected to fail to do? And when these kids fail and fall pregnant we punish them by sending them into an institution that accounts for more abuses of women than any. We send them to start a rite of passage that only a mature, informed and consenting adult should be willingly entering. I am particularly looking at those child marriages which take place because a school going girl has come home late or she has fallen pregnant and must “go kwaakapihwa nhumbu yake” (she must go to whoever made her pregnant)
People can get emotional all they want but a child who, despite acting all grown up and doing grown up business, has no business being thrust into a space that she is most likely to be abused repeatedly. This young girl-woman needs to be in school where an education can help her secure a better future for her. She needs the support of her family during this bewildering period in her life and not left in the hands of a man who most probably does not want anything to do with her or the baby she is now carrying. Sending her into marriage at such an early age and given the likely scenario she will face, IS punishing her, and punishing her terribly, if I may be so candid. Marriage should be a joy and not something that is founded on “mistakes”, fear and constant reminders that one is being punished and is unwanted.
Given that sex has taken place between a child-woman and (usually) an adult, why does my society see it fit that a few dollars, cows and some clothes and groceries are given in exchange for the entire future of this child? How much is a woman’s future worth anyway? Seems it carries a small price tag whichever way we look at it. Let us all remember that before we condemn this “wayward” child, for she still is a child, she is at the mercy of her hormones and we need to guide her through this difficult time of her life. I would dare challenge parents to take up the parenting mantle and equip their young girls with all the information they would need to get through this period in a manner that will allow them to avoid the pitfalls of teenage pregnancy and teenage sex. Marrying her off is not a solution and should not even be contemplated. Let us talk WITH our children about sexual intercourse so that they are better informed and ready to face or avoid it.