Chief’s ‘services’ pays off to curb child marriages


By Nhau Mangirazi

HURUNGWE– Chief Abel Mbasera Chundu from Hurungwe district within Mashonaland West province is the incoming senator representing Zimbabwe traditional chiefs in ninth parliament.

Chief Chundu make criss-crosses from his rural home under Chundu village situated about 65 kilometres north of Karoi, for girls right to education as part of ‘traditional’ and community service here.

Chief Chundu explained that he took girl child cases as ‘traditional value’ that needs respect from communities.

‘We must help to curb child marriages through commitment as traditional leaders. This is part of our ‘ritual’ here,’ he said.  

Chief Chundu aims to reduce child marriages within Hurungwe district, one of worst affected as an agent of social behavioural change.

Globally, 140 million girls become child brides annually translating to 39 000 per day.

I6 million adolescent girls give birth annually and 90 percent are already married according to the World Health Organisation, (WHO)

According to United Nations Children Fund, (UNICEF)’s State of the World Report (2015), child marriage prevalence had Mashonaland Central leading with 50% while Mashonaland West pegged second at 42%, Masvingo (39%) while Mashonaland East had 36%.

Chief Chundu wants to see parents and guardians paying school fees to avert early marriages.

‘We must not take defaulters to debt collectors or magistrates’ courts that exposes family ties but we solve these issues traditionally as chief is community father,” says the traditional leader.

In 2017, he summoned three hundred defaulting parents at Nyamakate community hall near local secondary school.

‘The traditional court upheld payment plans offered by defaulters. Lack of commitment on importance of education for girl fuels child marriages,’ said Chief Chundu.

Outgoing Hurungwe East member of parliament Sarah Mahoka added that she held ‘night vigils’ with traditional leaders against marrying off young girls.

‘It used to be a hard topic as traditionalists used to facilitate early marriages but through night vigils, they are part of solution to the community problems. I held several around Hurungwe district covering resettlement areas. Local teachers shared positive stories after our meetings,’ said Mahoka.

Chief Chundu is one of few traditional leaders embracing Hurungwe’s ministry of education district program to arrest suspected sexual abusers marrying off young girls since early 2013.

The program was carried by former district education officer Jason Dzveta who launched Operation ‘Siya Mwana Wechikoro’ meaning ‘Leave out girls to go to school’

The program was sponsored by Campaign for Female Education, (Camfed) through community awareness programs with stakeholders including traditionalists, law enforcement agencies among others.

Camfed works to tackle poverty and inequality among marginalized girls to go to school.

It has operated in Hurungwe, Kariba districts within Mashonaland West province among other areas locally and regionally.

Education officer Dzveta engaged stakeholders to ‘reintegrate dropouts’ into formal school.

“Some girls wanted to go back to school after being forced into child marriages,” he says.

“Girls parents are complementing our efforts. In all our 95 secondary schools in Hurungwe district we reduced dropout rate from between four to five girls per school per year to about two per school per year,” he reveals.

Non-discriminatory

 
Save the Children communications and advocacy advisor Sophie Hamandishe said rights to education must not be discriminatory.
‘Every child is entitled to education as provided for in Article 28 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the child (UNCRC), that Zimbabwe assented to. In addition, Section 81, (f) of the Zimbabwean constitution provides right to education, to every boy or girl under the age of 18. This right is given wholly and as such no child should be discriminated against for any reason’ she said.

However, Chundu said, ‘In 2017, we managed to get 15 girls back into school. Some villagers ended up being community monitors of such abuses. This is positive for the community and nation at large’

Hamandishe concours that an unfortunate girl child violated or impregnated does not justify being discriminated, stigmatized or being denied their right to education.

 Girls education rights

‘If anything, every child deserves support, counselling and love especially from their peers, family, community and nation at large. Only then can the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education’s programme on second chance education be a reality. Many of the girls successfully enrolled back at school excelled in life, flying Zimbabwean flag globally. Doctor Tererai Trent from Hurungwe district is an international icon on girl child rights. Globally she is standing for poor rural based girls and to promote girls’ education.  When you educate a girl, you educate a nation,’ said Hamandishe.

Legal Resources Foundation director Zephania Chakawa said they have engaged traditional leaders imparting them with legal knowledge.

‘We have done outreach programs and Chief Chundu has been supportive in our programs. It is healthy for our legal commitment, to end child marriages,’ said Chakawa.

However, some child rights advocacy groups such as Panos Southern Africa uses different media platforms to advocate for positive social change.

Panos Southern Africa public health program manager Mamemokatsane Khati said they are creating platforms for discussion to address social, cultural and legal drivers of child marriage.

‘‘Through dialogue and discussion, we have seen a change in how people view child marriage and their improved understanding on how it’s a violation to girl rights. This has led to involvement of different stakeholders, traditional chiefs, parents and girls themselves to draw strategies to advocate for ending child marriage,’ she said.


Strategic approach

Plan International Zimbabwe is working to promote equal access to quality education for all children to reach their potential.

Plan International interim communications manager Grace Mavhezha said education is a gateway for girls to realise their full potential in societies to break cycle of poverty.

‘Many girls are excluded from education because of poverty, gender, disability, geographical remoteness and cultural barriers. We work closely with local authorities to improve legislation and public policy on education,’ she said in written response.

Mavhezha added that after realising that child marriages are leading most girls to drop out of school.

‘‘With child marriages deeply rooted due to social and cultural norms, Plan International Zimbabwe (PIZ) set out to engage with religious and traditional leaders, through the Chiefs’ Council with over 40 chiefs. This was a long-term effort of relationship building, of both cultivating influential champions and sensitizing them to the issue, as well as better understanding their perspectives on the issue. The chiefs committed to raise awareness of the issue through their district platforms,’ she added. This leaves Chief Chundu with a smile for making girls right to education part of his ‘traditional social’ service