The married girls said that this unfair and inhumane practice was subjecting the girl child to a form of invisible slavery and poverty that is difficult to escape. Speaking during a core-group meeting held at Montgomery Hall in Bulawayo, some of the participants said that their families were not willing to sacrifice resources for their education and career.
One of the participants revealed how her father would not hide the disdain he had for bearing three girls only, without having a male heir to carry the family’s name.
“We are only three girls in our family. When I was growing up, my father was always berating us and openly telling us that we were of no use to him since we were girls. He was always frustrated that my mother could not give him a boy child that he desperately wanted,” said Pamela (name changed), one of the participants.
Pamela says during her school days, her father would at times refuse to pay fees for her two sisters and her.
“My father always spent his money on beer. He was always drunk and never spent time with us as a family. It was as if he was ashamed of us. At times he would refuse to pay school fees for us. My mother struggled to raise us because my father spent his salary alone,” said Pamela.
Pamela added that she and her twin sister were good in sports and at times the school authorities allowed them in school so as to represent the school in tournaments. Pamela says she got the shock of her life when her father secretly arranged her marriage when she was 17 years old.
“One day I was invited by my aunt’s husband to his house to collect some papers for typing. I did not suspect anything. He was 56 years old and had children who were much older than me. When I got there, he was alone. Initially he was evasive about the invitation. Later he told me that my father had made an arrangement for our marriage. He tried to take me into his bedroom but I pushed him away and bolted out of his house,” said Pamela.
Pamela said later that same day her father beat her up for refusing to get married and settling down.
“He accused me of being a prostitute since I did not want to get married and settle down. I retaliated against the beating. Other extended family members came together and labelled me a rebel. I was banished from my home and from all relatives,” said Pamela.
“If I was a boy, I am positive that my father would have sacrificed all he had to ensure that I get a better education and a sound career,” says Pamela.
Cultural practices are oppressive
Another participant, Chipo says her aunt forcibly took her to her boyfriend’s home when she got pregnant at 15 years. She says that although it was an unplanned pregnancy and she had no wish to get married, her parents told her they could not support someone else’s wife.
“My brother once impregnated a girl when he was still at school. My father allowed him to stay with his wife at home and they even paid lobola to the girl’s parents. When I got pregnant he did not even want to see me or listen to me. I had to communicate with them through my aunt as they said I was no longer part of the family,” said Chipo.
Chipo says that local cultural practices were oppressive to the girl child and remain an albatross to their development. She added that during family gatherings, all girls in her family are not included and their opinions are not sought.
“I was as good as a domestic worker. I did all the laundry and cooking while the boys were busy playing or studying. I wanted to go to school after delivering my baby because the government allows that but my in-laws could have none of that,” said Chipo.
Participants revealed that it was important to target young men in such programmes because they were better positioned to change than older men. They said that older men were so entrenched in their cultural practices that it was almost impossible to convince them to treat female and male children equally.
The participants said they had limited information on the national legal framework to protect married girls and legislation and policies that prevented girls from getting married. They identified opportunities in the use of Information and Communication Technologies that can help them to raise their voices on child marriage. Participants said lack of platforms to express themselves contributed to the increase in the practice of child marriage as decision makers would be ignorant of the plight of child brides.
Strengthening public voices
The problem of lack of voice by child brides in Zimbabwe is clearly captured in the document, The No-Nonsense guide to Communication Rights published by the World Association for Christian Communication. The document gives an example of two people, one a powerful media mogul and the other a poor person who both have similar protection for the right to freely express themselves. Although these two people may have similar rights, the poor person will have no platform to tell her story will the media mogul can have their views amplified.
The Zimbabwean media are dominated by politics because the majority of media houses are owned and controlled by politicians. The majority of media personnel are male and they do not report issues about child brides objectively. Issues of power are therefore fundamental as those with power decide which issues are set on the agenda. Power also influences how policies are made and implemented. By giving child brides power, the Creative Centre for Communication and Development hopes to influence policy and shift the power relations in society which will allow marginalised and vulnerable groups to map their own destinies.
The Creative Centre for Communication and Development is availing ICTs and making them acceptable, accessible, available and affordable to child brides. Through its programme, Giving a BYTE to child brides by word of MOUSE, the organisation is working with child brides to amplify their endangered speeches and raising their silenced and forgotten voices while promoting and facilitating child brides’ views, and opinions in the public domain and accurately document human rights abuse and building a body of knowledge for advocacy purposes to influence policy and legislative change.
The concerns raised during the meeting resonate with the plight of girls in Zimbabwe in general. According to a report produced during the International Conference on Population and Development, there are significant inequalities between men and women. The report says culture plays a crucial role in defining gender roles in favour of men and that “it frames the limits of what a woman may undertake at work, in the family or in public life; help determine male behaviour, responsibilities and entitlements; aﬀect social and economic functioning at all levels; and inﬂuence relationships between spouses, children and parents, managers and employees, and community members” (Africa Regional Review Report, 2009, p.9).
To address the cultural and policy impediments to the development and welfare of girls, the Creative Centre for Communication and Development has lined up a series of meetings and workshops targeting some local churches, non-governmental organisations, schools and government departments who are strategic partners relevant in addressing the plight faced by child brides.
In this project supported by WACC, child brides will play a key role in highlighting their difficulties and advocating for cultural and policy changes that promote the interest if girls. In addition, the Creative Centre for Communication and Development is also conducting research to find ways in which current policies can address the multiple dimensions of poverty faced by married girls in Bulawayo Metropolitan Province.