'Instant marriages' take root in Epworth

HARARE - Unemployment and poverty have eroded family stability and morals in the informal settlement of Epworth, where sex and boozing are the major activities.

The results are unreported rape cases, early marriages and teen pregnancies which have become so commonplace that they have become accepted as a norm.

Short term marriages are also the orders of the day, and it is not headline news here for a pregnant woman to leave her husband to stay with the man next door.

Located 12 kilometres southeast of Harare, Epworth is a largely informal settlement suffering from government neglect.

Residents live in abject poverty and cohabitation is often the route to survive the economic hardships girls face daily, giving birth to phenomenon commonly referred to as “instant marriage” in the area.

It has become the norm for men and women to live together and have children in a short space of time before looking for other partners within the hood.

Community elders say young girls are getting married for convenience while for the boys it is sex and alcohol that takes much of their time.

The issue came under the spotlight during a community-based dialogue hosted by Padare/Enkundleni/Men’s Forum on Gender, where members of the Epworth community voiced concern that too many young men and women were cohabiting and having children disrespecting the proper marriage institution.

“Vana vakawanda vakuzvara kunga mbeva (Too many people are having children like rats).It is a cause for concern that they are living together for the sake of survival.

And when the spark and good living ends, they move on to the next person as they continually look for men to fend for them and their children,” said a community member who refused to be named.

Another Epworth community elder Andrew Munene said with rampant unemployment and low economic activity, sex has become the only form of entertainment and employment.

“Most of these children have no jobs and are not involved in self-help projects so they just roam around.
Such youngsters are usually stressed about not having any form of employment and sex, which is readily available, provides some sort of relief,” he said.

“These boys end up just looking for women. Thoughts of a proper marriage are the last thinking on their minds,” said Munene.

Since the majority of births, especially among youths, are unintended, local non-governmental organisations such as Padare feel they should intensify campaigns access to comprehensive sex education programmes and contraception.

Padare senior programmes officer, Nakai Nengomasha said poverty is the reason why such communities have such problems.

“Many of these issues are raised during such dialogues and this seems to be the solution but there is also need to curb poverty,” he said.

Another phenomenon in Epworth is that of increased cases of rape that never see the doors of the courts.

Community members said rape cases were on the increase but most of them were resolved without involving the police.

They said community courts usually forced the perpetrator to pay cash to the parents of the victim and this had become an accepted form of justice.

In such circumstances, a price tag is put on the crime and both parties are “happy”.

In some instances, young women and girls are forced to live with the perpetrators in a “marriage” set up after the trauma of having been violated.

Compensation has been “damage” and it is taking precedence over justice in this area.

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