“In Nyanga District we have declared that there will be no more child pledging! The girl child will never be used to appease avenging spirits ever again! Avenging spirits will be negotiated with and told to accept livestock instead of the girl child,” said Chief Katerere of Nyanga North to a thunderous applause from over 2000 people in attendance. Nyanga is situated in Manicaland Province, east of Zimbabwe.
Child pledging is a traditional custom which is prevalent in Zimbabwe. If a man kills a person, the spirit of the deceased is believed to come back to haunt the family of the murderer and this spirit is normally appeased by payment through a little girl even as young as 5 from the family of the murderer. The girl becomes a slave and wife to a member of the deceased family.
Chief Katerere said the above during a16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence (16 DOA) campaign event held in Nyanga on 8 and 9 December 2016. ActionAid Zimbabwe and partners, Family Aids Caring Trust (FACT Nyanga), Simukai Child Protection and Diocese of Mutare Community Care Program (DOMCCP) organized the two commemorations in Nyanga Development Programme (LDP) areas. LDPs are ActionAid partner operational areas. The campaigns events, which were attended by various stakeholders including chiefs and local authorities, rural women’s assembly, government officials and teenage mothers, ran with the theme of “Ending Child Marriages”. One of the events was held in Nyanga town while the other was held in Nyanga rural.
The End Child Marriage campaign events were kicked off by the viewing of a moving video on child marriages called “Voices” produced by an organization called African Women Film Festival. The film, which reveals the causes of child marriages as well as health and psychological effects on the girl, generated a lot of discussions and unearthed hidden emotions. A number of women young and old recounted personal experiences they had gone through when they married young. Some broke down and some could be seen with tears rolling down their chicks.
This film is a true reflection of my life. I got married at the age of 15 and had no clue what marriage was all about. After delivering my baby, I remember playing with other girls leaving the child unattended. Fortunately my mother in-law understood that I was a child and took over my responsibilities, said one woman in her mid-50s going down the memory lane. Unfortunately not all girls are lucky to have understanding in laws like this woman. Most girls who marry early suffer physical and verbal abuse in such marriages.
Another woman narrated her heartrending story of how she got married at 15 and by 20 she had given birth to five children. Apart from the negative health effects of giving birth every year, she was also tortured by her unsupportive in-laws.
Presentations on challenges faced by girls in child marriages were made during the End Child Marriage events. These were done by various government officials representing Ministries of Primary and Secondary Education, Public Service Labour and Social Welfare and Health and Child Care. The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) Victim Friendly Unit also gave their input providing delegates with the laws protecting children who marry early. Delegates made plans and committed to end child marriages. As part of their plan to end child marriages, traditional leaders announced an end to child pledging in Nyanga.
The End Child Marriages Campaign was launched in Nyanga by stakeholders in the district in 2015 during the 16 DOA campaign in December 2016. Throughout 2016, partners worked hard, raising awareness, forming watch groups to protect girls from child marriages. WhatsApp platforms were created as measures to prevent child marriages. The WhatsApp groups, which are managed by the ZRP Victim Friendly Unit, although organized by FACT Nyanga, allow communities to report cases of child marriages to duty bearers such as the police and Ministries of Women’s Affairs and Social Welfare. The Rural Women’s Assembly (RWA), local women groups championing the rights of members of their communities were roped in to educate communities on the negative effects of child marriages. The impact of the RWA initiatives have started being felt as men are dragged to courts over child marriages. ActionAid has supported over 4000 women under the RWA in its Local Development Programmes countrywide in a bid to empower them socially and economically.
Other than girl pledging, in Zimbabwe, girls have been married off to older men due to religious beliefs and to alleviate poverty. The chiefs have taken a big step towards ending child marriages by ending child pledging. A lot still needs to be done since various other causes of child marriages have not yet been fully tackled. #endchildmarriages