'Child marriages hamper development'

HARARE - Child marriage, which steals the innocence of millions of girls and often condemns them to lives of poverty, ignorance and poor health, is one of the biggest obstacles to development in Zimbabwe, with one in every three girls married off before the age of 18.

Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative (REPSSI) country representative Sibusisiwe Marunda made the remarks during the on-going International Conference on Aids and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa (Icasa) in Harare.

Marunda said one in 10 girls under the age of 15 is married off often without her consent and sometimes to a much older man because of rising poverty.

Most of those marriages take place in rural areas.

“I believe the environment in which these girls are being born into plays a major role in the outcome of child marriages,” she said.

“We have to create opportunities for primary and secondary education and informal education for all children. These are crucial in delaying the age of marriage. Ultimately, education can help girls make informed decisions.”

One of the targets in the UNAids fast track strategy to end Aids by 2030 is to eliminate child marriages. Marunda said Zimbabwe has a major part to play in the fight to protect vulnerable groups.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child considers marriage before the age of 18 a human rights violation.

“Girls are much more susceptible to transmission of STIs, including HIV than are older women.  Girls have less access to sexual and reproductive health services.

“They are thus less likely to have access to testing or access to treatment for STIs which increase the risk of HIV transmission,” Marunda said.

Girls forced into early marriage rarely continue their education, denying them any hope of independence, the ability to earn a livelihood or of making an economic contribution to their households.

The practice also reinforces the concept of girls as worthless burdens on their families to be jettisoned as soon as possible.


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