Photo: Girls Not Brides.
During the meeting, community leaders revealed that although the problem of child marriage was not as rampant in Reigate district compared to other districts in Zimbabwe, there were some red flag areas such as the informal settlement and some minority Apostolic and Zionist churches where girls are married at a tender age.
The leaders also noted that the dominant churches in the district, the Catholic Church and the Seventh Day Adventists do not promote child marriage. Apostolic churches and Zionist churches draw most of their members from the informal settlements. These churches, whose roots are in the traditional African culture, do not seem to condemn child marriage.
One of the participants, Rev. Febbie Chuma, founder and leader of Noah’s Ark Ministries, urged church leaders to promote and uphold the rights of the girl child and to encourage their followers to invest in the girl child as a way of reducing the prevalence of child marriages in Zimbabwe.
Rev. Chuma challenged some church leaders who condoned the practice of child marriage in their churches not only to consider its implications on the future of the girl child but to align their church practices to the new constitution which prohibits child marriage.
Rev. Chuma said churches should play the vanguard role in defending the rights of girls and yet some church leaders are taking advantage of their positions in the church to abuse girls.
“There are numerous cases of some church leaders raping and marrying young girls in the church. More cases are going unreported because church followers fear to undermine the ‘man of God’ for fear of being ‘cursed’ by these unscrupulous leaders,” said Rev Chuma, adding that communities should now start to monitor activities in their churches and report any suspicious unions or marriages.
The meeting was the culmination of a series conducted by the Creative Centre for Communication and Development (CCCD) with individual church and community leaders. It formed part of a community mobilisation strategy emphasising the need to build relationships and alliances in the campaign to end child marriage.
Religious and community leaders also had an opportunity to interact with some women who had experienced child marriage and this provided them with clear picture of the impact of child marriage on girls.
While the practice of child marriage is still considered by many a “family issue” that does not involve anyone outside the concerned family, engaging community leaders and church leaders has helped to open up the issue for public discussion. This engagement, coupled with real life stories told by the child brides, has helped the community to understand the nature of the problem.
Ms Gertrude Pswarayi, CCCD director urged community leaders to be vigilant in promoting the rights of girls, saying that the community stood to benefit more by investing in the education of girls than in the girls getting married young. She told the gathering that child brides were in most cases poorly equipped to take care of their families and this often resulted in increased poverty and the problem of street children.
Participants noted that people from the informal settlements were difficult to approach as they viewed “outsiders” with suspicion. It was agreed that CCCD would work closely with Pastor Chuma and Noah’s Ark ministries, who are providing food and clothes to some families in the squatter camps. It was also agreed that regular review meetings should be conducted to check progress in the dissemination of information.
This project is currently being supported by WACC under its current initiative “Pathways to digital frontiers: Communication rights and inclusion” with financial assistance from the Waldensian Church in Italy’s Otto per mille fund.