The Covid 19 induced lockdowns that were introduced in March last seem to have caused a spike in child marriages.
A Research Advocacy Unit (RAU) report has noted that the increase in child marriages can largely be attributed to the closure of schools during the lockdown period. An estimate by the World Economic Forum have also alluded that 4 million girls are at risk of child marriages in the next 2 years due to the pandemic.
A child is defined as every boy or girl below the age of 18, (Section 3 (81), Constitution of Zimbabwe). Child marriage is a marital union where either spouse is below 18 years of age, although girls are disproportionately the most affected. In Zimbabwe, child marriage is on a steady decrease, though this phenomenon is common in mining towns, farming towns and border towns (UNICEF 2014).
Chipinge is one of the areas in Zimbabwe that has not been spared and of late has seen a surge in the number of child marriage cases.
According to citizen journalist Effort Manono, cases of child marriages have been on the rise. In some instances, the cases are reported to the police although a majority of the cases are settled at family level.
As of last year following the closure of many organizations and schools owing to the outbreak of the Covid 19 pandemic, Manono gathered that many young girls below the age of 15 years had already been married. In Checheche, 15 girls were reportedly married while Mabee Garahwa area recorded more than 50 cases of child marriages.
In a recent case covered by Manono, a 15 year old girl got married to an 18 year old boy. It is said that a girl who was in form two at Checheche High School got married to an older man who completed his Ordinary level some years back.
The young lady (name withheld) is believed to have been from a child headed family as both parents are in South Africa. It is said that the girl eloped after realizing that she was pregnant. The matter was reported to Chisumbanje police by neighbours who were shocked by the scenery.
It is worrying to note that a number of children are now indulging in relationships and practising drug abuse as they seem to have lost hope of going back to school.
Civic society organisations such as Youth and Community Development have called on the government to urgently address the situation of child marriages.
Child marriages are not only prevalent in Chipinge, but in various other areas in Zimbabwe. It is encouraged that families should have time to sit down with their children, talk to them about life and give them awareness.
A family therapist said that: “For this to take place, parents should make their children feel free around them. Most black parents have created that tendency of being feared by their children.”
The ongoing lockdowns have clearly heightened the situation whereby children at home are not happy when parents are around as they end up facing different types of abuse. In some instances children end-up witnessing their parents quarrelling and fighting all the time.
“The children end up thinking that marriage is the way out of bad situations, not aware that they are actually getting themselves into another situation,” explained the family therapist who spoke on condition of anonymity.
With the relaxation of the lockdown and vaccination underway, it is expected that cases of child marriages will decrease as they will be able to go back to school and their normal daily routines. Nhau/Indaba