Traditionalists hammer harmful cultural practices that fuel child marriages

By Nhau Mangirazi

HURUNGWE– Some Zimbabweans are keen to ‘respect’ harmful cultural practices that are now fueling child marriages in outlying rural communities.

According to traditionalists, the moves deny girls freedom of choice.

Women Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ) Mutare chapter chairperson Selina Marewangepo said child marriage is an expression of gender inequality.

‘‘When the girl is married early it means she is not much valued compared to the boy child. The girl child has no right to issues that affect their lives. Religion or church doctrine, poverty and the latest coming in of Covid-19 because of minimum economic activities including the low level of education has fueled these marriages,’’ she said.

Traditionalists are blaming parents or guardians who take advantage of marrying off young girls behind harmful cultural practices.

Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association (Zinatha) president George Kandiero explained that harmful practices include paying off a girl child to avenging spirits (kuripa ngozi) or replacing a deceased sister with a minor (kugaramapfihwa) that are against girl child rights.

‘‘We have people who bring in all harmful practices that fuel early child marriages in the pretext of kuripa ngozi that is appeasing avenging spirits. In this modern age, it is unacceptable as paying off avenging spirits can be settled through cash payment or through cattle which remains our source of settling debts culturally. I don’t believe it is good for the young child and some of these men are taking advantage of culture in marrying off younger girls. Many ways can be used to avert getting a girl child to be used for such cultural vices. Those doing it are criminals who must be jailed,’’ said Kandiero.

His sentiments came following the death of 14-year-old Anna Machaya who died at a Marange shrine in Bosha, Manicaland.

She was married off to a 26-year-old Hatirarame Momberume who has been arrested.

Civil society organizations (CSOs)including WCoZ are amplifying girl rights to stop and end child marriages.

Marewangepo explained that WCoZ is now advocating against child marriages.

‘‘As WCoZ, we are doing collaborations with other CSOs and stakeholders to try and end child marriages through, awareness campaigns, social media with words like Marrying a child is Rape as well as inviting legal experts to talk about what child marriages is through legal literacy training, coordination forums, engagements, or indabas with traditional leaders, safe shelters, and One-Stop Centers and where they are located, among other mitigation measures,’’ she added.

Chief Chundu real name Abel Mbasera of Hurungwe, Mashonaland West is a Senator who said traditionalists are educating communities on the challenges of child marriages around the country.

‘‘As traditional leaders, we are advocating against child marriages. We are appealing to communities to respect girl children and stop child brides. Regai dzive shiri mazai haana muto meaning lets men wait for girls to be mature. We are glad that we have laws that say the age of majority as pegged at 18 and this gives a leeway for girl child not to be married off at younger age,’’ said Chief Chundu.

Petronella Chiusari an official with Zimbabwe National Traditional Practitioners Association (ZINPA) concurred that child marriage is fueled by both cultural and religious methods that turn to be harmful against minors.

‘‘These practices have been done since time immoral but as girls were not in a position to negotiate for the freedom. As an organization that values girls so that they are respected,’’ she added.     

Kandiero said there is a need to rein in those manipulating young girls.

‘‘Traditionally and culturally it is allowed to ask for a reprieve on any judgment after pleading including kukumbirira where accused will be allowed a time frame to pay off with cattle or money and it is accepted. Culture is dynamic and as custodians of culture we are against those who abuse minors but suspects must face the wrath of the law as no one is above the law. We are advocating to have anyone face the law if they abuse girl child under the guise of culture,’’ said Kandiero.

According to the International Journal of Management and Social Sciences study carried in 2017, child marriages or early marriages especially in the Mashonaland provinces of Zimbabwe are caused by religious and cultural beliefs, parental expectations together with their low education.

It further pointed out low academic performance and absenteeism from school caused by a negative attitude toward sex education contributes to early marriage among secondary school girls.

‘‘While the marriage laws have been aligned the study revealed that parents are still ignorant about many issues regarding child marriage hence the need for countrywide campaigns on the effect of this practice both on individuals and community as a whole,’’ said the study.

Marewangepo said they have tried the legal routes.

‘‘We also lobby for the alignments of laws,’’ she concluded.

Despite all the campaigns done in Zimbabwe through different platforms such as Girl Child Network, Gender Policies, Child Line, UNICEF, and even the Constitution of Zimbabwe on girl child empowerment, child marriage is still on the increase in Zimbabwe in Mashonaland provinces.

According to the latest statistics, Mashonaland Central province tops with (50%) while Mashonaland West has (42%), Mashonaland East (36%), Midlands (31%),

Manicaland (30%) is pegged at Matabeleland North (27%) while Harare is at 19%, Matabeleland South (18%), and lastly Bulawayo at 10%.