Early marriages: Girl child's curse

HARARE - Married early, many young girls are failing to realise their full potential.

Realising how the world was ignoring the girl child, the United Nations last year set aside the International Day of the Girl Child.

Locals would be forgiven for thinking that this year’s theme targeted at ending early marriages, was crafted with apostolic churches in mind.

Mushrooming at every open space, the sects are notorious for marrying off young girls, many barely in their teens, to old men with grey beards.

Campaigners say discrimination and violence against apostolic sect girls and violations of their human rights are still rampant.

A Daily News on Sunday crew recently witnessed the plight of the apostolic girl child during a visit to the great shrine of Johane Masowe weChishanu.

During an interview, one of the apostolic sect leaders tried to  justify the actions as preserving the church’s “image and morals” as opposed to “wasting” years educating girls.

“If we see a girl becoming wayward, we sit her father down and force him to marry off the child. We do the same with boys.

“This is to ensure that good behaviour is practiced within the church,” said Kenny Kuzambani, one of the sect elders and leader.

“Good morals are the foundation of the church and we do not want the church’s image to be tarnished by the loose morals that some children have. It is better to marry them off at a tender age.

“It is rare to see a girl aged 20 or older with no husband. We do not place emphasis on education,” Kazambani said.

This has not gone well with campaigners of the girl child, who include Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s wife, Elizabeth Macheka.

Speaking at the commemoration of the International Day of the Girl Child in Chitungwiza, Macheka said this theme was chosen because child marriage is a phenomenon that violates millions of girls’ rights.

“Early marriages disrupt the girl child’s education, jeopardises their health, and denies them a childhood, limiting their opportunities and impact on all aspects of a girl’s life,” she said.

Macheka said societies needed to change their attitudes towards the girl child.

“Societies must change their attitudes towards the girl child if we are to successfully fight this scourge.

“Preventing child marriages will protect girls’ rights and help reduce their risk of abuse, early pregnancy, HIV infection, and maternal death and disability,” she said.

Macheka said when girls are able to stay in school and avoid being married early, they can build a foundation for a better life for themselves and their families and participate in the progress of their nations.

The United Nations felt a need to raise awareness of the challenges that millions of girls face every day and declared it would annually observe the International Day of the Girl Child, starting from October 11, 2012.

United Nations agencies estimate that the apostolic community constitutes six percent of Zimbabwe’s adult population and 64 percent of the membership consists of women, and the majority of the women are aged between 20 and 29 years, the marrying and child-bearing age group.

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