According to a 2022 press release by UNICEF, in Zimbabwe, one out of three young girls enters into marriage before reaching their 18th birthday. Child marriage often results from gender disparities in developing countries. Girls Not Brides explains that “child marriage is rooted in gender inequality” and “poverty, lack of education, harmful social norms and practices and insecurity” exacerbate it. Child marriage in Zimbabwe limits future possibilities for women and perpetuates cycles of poverty.
Child Marriage in Zimbabwe: Contributing Factors
By June 2021, the number of individuals living in extreme poverty in Zimbabwe rose to almost 8 million. The Guardian reported that “child marriage in Zimbabwe is often driven by poverty.” Families living in poverty often push their young daughters into marriage because the “bride price” the family receives will reduce the household’s financial burden.
Aside from economic reasons, there is a cultural and religious ideology that condones marrying off young girls. Specifically, indigenous apostolic religious groups have a higher number of child marriages. The doctrine of the Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe directs that girls must wed between the ages of 12 and 16 in order to prevent premarital sexual relations. Furthermore, many indigenous apostolic churches in Zimbabwe prohibit girls from returning to school once married.
Whereas 33% of girls in Zimbabwe entered into marriage before the age of 18, for boys, this rate is just 2%. The lack of education among women further pushes them into oppression, limiting job prospects and forcing women to rely on their husbands economically. According to a UNICEF statistic, as of 2021, only 14% of females in Zimbabwe attain an upper secondary education.
Human Rights Watch highlights the implications of child marriage: “Child marriage in Africa often ends a girl’s education, exposes her to domestic violence and grave health risks from early childbearing and HIV and traps her in poverty.”
The Women Advocacy Project (WAP) Zimbabwe
In efforts to decrease child marriage in Zimbabwe, the Women Advocacy Project Zimbabwe, a partner of U.S.-based The Advocacy Project, provides the support young girls need to thrive. The specific child marriage program looks to raise $5,000 via the GlobalGiving platform to train five local Zimbabwean girls to become community leaders. As leaders, these girls will be able to action community-wide change to bring an end to child marriage in Zimbabwe. These girl leaders will educate others about women’s rights, the far-reaching implications of child marriage, the benefits of obtaining an education and how to safeguard oneself from abuse.
The leaders will also “identify 25 girls in each of their communities who are at risk of marrying early and assist them in choosing better options,” the project page says. Each leader will form a “Give Us Books, Not Husbands” club in their local communities. The club aims to change beliefs and attitudes regarding child marriage.
WAP expects the project to reduce rates of child marriage in Zimbabwe and increase school attendance and completion rates among girls.
The Good News
The advocacy work of organizations has created lasting impacts. On May 27, 2022, the President of Zimbabwe signed into law the Marriages Act, legally prohibiting the marriage of individuals younger than 18. This means that child marriage is now a criminal offense.
The piece of legislation brings hope to the fight against child marriage, however, implementation and enforcement will play a critical role in actioning change.
– Micaela Carrillo
Photo: Wikimedia Commons