By Margret Chogugudza
Today Zimbabwe joins the African continent in commemorating the Day of the African under the theme “The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development for Children in Africa: Accelerating protection, empowerment and equal opportunity”.
The Day of the African Child is commemorated every year on the 16th and it is an opportunity to reflect on the problems faced by African Children.
Child marriage is a common challenge faced by all African countries. It is a harmful tradition that robs girls their education, health and future.
In January 2016, the Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe ruled that no child under the age of 18 should be marriage but child marriage is still prevalent in Zimbabwe.
Child marriage is a violation of children’s human rights. In most cases child marriage means an end to formal education therefore girls who are married early are denied their right to education.
Girls who continue with school gain knowledge and skills necessary to succeed throughout their lives. Denying girls their rights to education makes them more vulnerable to a life of poverty, ill health and abuse.
Child marriage often has devastating consequences on girls’ health, especially reproductive issues which include maternal health and family planning. Girls married at an early age are initiated into sexual activities when their bodies are still developing and when they know little about their sexual and reproductive health rights.
Often married to older husbands, it can be extremely difficult for girls to negotiate safe sexual practices and the use of family planning methods, therefore they are robbed of their sexual and reproductive health rights.
Married girls are particularly vulnerable to HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Girls forced into marriage are exposed to early pregnancies that are detrimental to their health because their bodies are not ready, thus their rights to good health and well being are violated.
Child marriage puts girls at risk of sexual, physical and psychological violence throughout their lives. Girls who marry as children are more likely to be beaten or threatened by their husbands than girls who marry later and are more likely to describe their first sexual experience as forced.
Extreme poverty, poor access to education and harmful religious beliefs and social norms fuel this practice. Girls in some churches are married off before the legal age of marriage in the name of religion and in most instances they are married to old men.
Child marriage is also driven by patriarchal values and the desire to control female sexuality, for instance, how a girl should behave, how she should dress, who she should be allowed to see and to marry.