Poverty haunts girls into early marriage

By Regis Nhumba

Ruvimbo Dube (20) from Chief Nhema in Shurugwi says her life took a wrong turn when she was forced into marriage to a 56 year old man when she was just 17 years old. She says the marriage brought all her hopes of a better life to an instant halt.

Ruvimbo says her marriage took place following an unfortunate incident that befell her family. She says her father got a herd of cattle from a neighbour through a traditional practice called kuronzera where a poor family is given cattle to look after. The family will then return the same number of cattle plus an agreed top up after an agreed period.

When her family got a herd of five cattle from a neighbour, Ruvimbo says her family was relieved from the persistent poverty. She says the arrangement did not end well because of an unfortunate incident.

“The cattle brought some hope in the family. That hope was however dashed when a pack of hyenas attacked the small herd. Hyenas are rare in our area and we do not know where they came from. They attacked and killed all the cattle,” says Ruvimbo.

Soon after the attack, Ruvimbo says her father visited his friend to explain what had happened. That visit yielded pain for Ruvimbo as she says a decision was made to compensate the loss of the cattle with a girl.

“My father brought back the news that I was to get married to compensate for the cattle that had been killed by hyenas. I could not believe what was happening. I had plans to continue with my education and not to get married to a man who was already married and had some children who were older than me,” says Ruvimbo.

Ruvimbo says her life as a second wife is miserable but there is no option for reporting to the police because her family would get into trouble.

“At first I thought that some of my relatives or community members would come to my rescue. I was shocked that no one raised an issue against this marriage. It was as if everything was fine,” says Ruvimbo.

Ruvimbo says she feels let down by everyone. She says she is no longer going to school because her husband said that he was going to support her.

Cases of young girls getting married are common in Shurugwi, an area well known for rampant artisanal mining and violent gold prospecting gangs. Poverty is rife and men who flaunt their wealth often take advantage of poverty ridden families to entice and marry young girls.

According to a non-governmental organisation, Plan International, there has been an increase in marriages of girls below the age of 18 from 32.8% in 2014 to 33.7% in 2019. The organisation also reported that cases of early bearing by girls before reaching the age of 18 rose from 22.4% in 2014 to 24.1% in 2019. Poverty, limited access to education, religion, and peer pressure were cited as key drivers of these marriages.

Ruvimbo says if her family was rich, she would be in school now but poverty forced to give in to this marriage.

“This incident greatly affected me. This is because when the agreement was made, I as a child was not consulted. There was also no mention of what would happen in the event of unforeseen incidents,” says Ruvimbo.

Creative Centre for Communication and Development, Zimbabwe