New Marriage Act face crunch test against poverty, culture

By Julia Ndlela

On May 27, 2022, the Marriages Act was signed into law, a development that seeks to put an end to the scourge of child marriages. Rights advocates however argue that the twin drivers of child marriage, poverty and culture are still entrenched and may render the law ineffective.

Kimberly Membere (22), who lives in Arcadia, a medium density suburb in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital city says she got married at the age of 17 and is now a mother of a four year old baby boy.

Kimberly says her marriage is a result of a traditional practice where parents may chase away a daughter if she visits her boyfriend and stays until late. She says the practice only affect girls while boys are not affected. Kimberly says for poor parents with girl children, this is an opportunity to force their daughter into marriage and then get dowry.

“I remember the day I visited my boyfriend late in the afternoon. Unfortunately I stayed with him until early hours of the night. When I got home, the doors were all locked up and I knew that my parents were aware that I was not around. I had no option but to knock. My mother was livid and she chased me out,” says Kimberly.

After being chased away, Kimberly says she went to her grandmother to ask her to mediate on her behalf so that she could be allowed to get back home. The intervention did not yield positive results as Kimberly says her parents insisted on meeting the boyfriend’s parents to discuss the issue. Kimberly says during the meeting, her parents insisted that marriage should take place to preserve their daughter’s honour.

“My boyfriend and I were never consulted about this marriage. It was as if the parents had concluded that since we were in a relationship, then we were also prepared to get married. I love my husband but this is not how I imagined my life. I wanted to be a lawyer but that dream has since faded,” says Kimberly.

Kimberly says culture dictates that when a girl child has been impregnated, the man should pay damages or bride price. She says some families have commercialized that lobola and are taking the process as a way of generating income. She wishes that the new law that has been passed may help to curb the practice of child marriage.

Another victim of child marriage is Felicity Chuma (20) from Sunningdale suburb in Harare. Felicity says she never wanted to get married but unfortunately she got pregnant at the age of 15. Her parents send her packing to stay with her ‘husband’.

“Traditionally, when a girl fall pregnant, she is already deemed to be someone’s wife. This applies even if the girl is under the age of marriage. Many parents stop supporting girls once they fall pregnant. I wanted to continue with education because the law allows it. However, my parents said they could not support someone else’s wife,” says Felicity.

Sthembinkosi Moyo (41) the outreach officer from Nehemiah Trust says poverty and cultural norms have destroyed the generation.

“Poverty in Zimbabwe is a driver for child marriages, as some families who are driven by hunger, force children into early marriages in exchange for bags of maize or cattle. Some religious sects also encourage child marriages and they view the ‘wives’ as labourers for their farms,” says Sthembinkosi.

Thandekile Ndlovu (24), a Peer Facilitator at the Young People’s Network in Plumtree District says due to cultural norms women have found themselves still following traditional practices.

“Poverty has also a great impact on early child marriages as young girls end up making decisions of getting married early so that they get something for survival, I recommend that young girls and young women should be engaged in platforms so that they prepare for better future,” says Thandekile.

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