Married too Soon: Child Marriages in Zimbabwe

Type Working Paper
Title Married too Soon: Child Marriages in Zimbabwe
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2011
URL Too Soon - Child Marriage in Zimbabwe.pdf
Several studies acknowledge that accurate data on the true extent of child marriage is difficult
to obtain because many marriages go unregistered and girls’ ages may be falsified (IPPF,
2006:11). However, UNICEF estimates that globally, some 64 million young women (aged 20-
24) were married before the age of 18. One girl below the age of 18 is married off every three
seconds worldwide, according to a British community development charity1
. A report from Plan
UK, entitled ‘Breaking Vows’, states that 10 million under-18s become child brides every year.
In developing countries - in Southern America, North Africa and parts of Asia - one in seven of
all girls, under 15, are married. Rates of early and forced marriages are also high in Europe,
especially in Central and Eastern Europe, where 2.2 million girls are married before their 18th
birthday. The highest rates are in Georgia (17%) and Turkey (14%).
Allowing people to marry under the age of 18 is against several United Nations conventions and
the practice is outlawed in most countries, but other countries turn a blind eye, especially in
poorer communities2
. Child marriage is now widely recognised as a violation of children's rights.
It is also a direct form of discrimination against the girl child, who, as a result of the practice, is
often deprived of her basic rights to health, education, development, and equality. Tradition,
religion, and poverty continue to fuel the practice of child marriage, despite its strong
association with adverse reproductive health outcomes and the lack of education for girls.
Child marriage is common in Zimbabwe, and 21% of children (mostly girls) are married before
the age of 183
. According to the Girl Child Network (GCN), a civic organisation whose mission is
to shelter, educate, and empower female victims, an estimated 8 000 girls have been forced
into early marriages or were held as sex slaves since 20084
. Chief Chiduku, a senator for
Manicaland province in Zimbabwe and a member of the African Apostolic Church was quoted
as having said there was nothing wrong with marrying off underage girls in a Parliamentary
Portfolio Committee meeting5
. Statements like these from a chief do not come as a surprise
because chiefs are the gatekeepers and custodians of custom and tradition. The question that
arises is whether the ‘tradition’ of early marriages is something that society should perpetuate
in view of the negative effects of the practice on the girl child as well as human rights standards
that prohibit marriage under the age of 18 . Should not tradition evolve and do away with
aspects that are harmful to children and the girl child in particular?

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