Forcing children to be mothers inhuman

IMG_8385.JPGI joined several Government Ministers, the First Lady of the Republic of Zimbabwe and several national and international partners on the launch of National Action Plan to end child marriage in Zimbabwe.

The launch was a timely undertaking and goes well with the Government’s commitment to ending violence against women and girls.

It was also a testament to the determination to fight against GBV not only for 16 days but every day for 365 days.

Child marriage is deplorable and a grave violation of children’s right. It must be treated as such.

Section 81 of Zimbabwe’s constitution underlines that every child has the right for protection from economic and sexual exploitation, and from neglect or any form of abuse.

It is in this regard and in response to joint efforts by all stakeholders that in January 2016, the Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe ruled that child marriages are unconstitutional.

This has a positive impact on many young girls’ physical and psychological well-being as well as their life choices. Empowering the girl child is not only a moral obligation, it lays the foundation for a more healthy and prosperous society in which women and men are equal citizens.

It is illegal, amoral and unacceptable to marry off underage girls. They are children, not old enough to be brides and they should be given all due protection and opportunities to realize their full potential -  dreams and aspirations as human beings

Sadly, Zimbabwe is among the countries with the highest prevalence of child marriages in Africa. Approximately one in three girls are married off before the age of 18. Evidence suggests that most of these marriages are formalised through customary procedures.

Girls who are married early are deprived not only their fundamental human rights but also the the opportunity to further their education which is an essential tool in changing their well-being.

Evidence demonstrates that limited access to education elevates the risk of early marriages with 43% of those aged 15-19 years with primary education being married compared to 20% of the same age group who had secondary education.

Isn’t it cruel to compel children to become mothers?

As you may know child marriages lead to increased early teen pregnancies. Complications increase with young mothers leading to a high number of deaths due to limited physiological and psychological development as well as unsafe abortions often leading to maternal death.

In line with the commitment of the United Nations and our solidarity in the joint effort to ending child marriages in Zimbabwe, the following key highlights proffer on what it takes to end the social scourge:

First, child marriage is a serious human rights violation, which affects rights of the girl child to health, education, equality, non-discrimination and the right to live free from violence and exploitation. As such, the UN and development partners supported harmonized cash transfer that is reaching some 300,000-vulnerable people including children must be expanded and cover all children who are exposed to such vulnerability. The National Social Security policy must be operationalised with increased allocation from national budget, development partners and private sector contributions.

Second, child Marriages places young girls and adolescents at risk of sexual, physical and psychological violence. Early pregnancies, also leads to higher maternal mortality if the girls are not fully developed when getting pregnant. In this regard, under the UN and Development Partners supported Health Development Fund and the recently developed Spotlight Initiative- every effort will be done to ensure that the sexual, reproductive health rights of the girl child is guaranteed.

Third, the UN stands ready to work with traditional leaders as custodians of culture and customary laws. It is often a question of social norms and cultural behavior – but we know culture changes constantly - we need to put emphasis on methods for positive social norms behavioral change.

Fourth, the engagement of fathers in healthy child development with equal measure as mothers is of paramount importance. Fathers’ involvement has been linked to higher school achievement and improved mental health for both boys and girls. UN together with other development partners is working on advocacy for positive parenting and ending child marriages. This effort will be continued and strengthened.

Fifth, the UN looks forward to the parliament of Zimbabwe passing the Bill to end child marriages, in addition to the urgent need for harmonization of marriage laws with the constitution. This will ensure enforcement and will give the legal ground for the implementation of the National Action Plan that is being launched today.

Unless all stakeholders work together with a sense of urgency to protect the dignity and sanctity of our children, it must be recognised that laws alone cannot eliminate child marriages.

The UN remains committed, in line with the provisions of the Transitional Stabilization Programme and the Sustainable Development Goals to the implementation of the National Action Plan to end child marriages in Zimbabwe through ongoing programmes and with a new multi-year programme to end violence against women and girls.

Bishow Parajuli, 19 December 2018 - Harare