Find ways to stop child marriages
Only genuine love can make one enter into such a binding situation, a situation full of responsibilities, duties, expectations, temptations, disappointments, and in which both parties undertake to live together “for better or for worse.”
It is the considered opinion of this writer that at 16 or 17, or even at 18 one is still mentally immature to be a parent, to say nothing about being a husband or a wife.
That is because what one feels to be “love” at those tender ages is in most cases mere infatuation, which is to say an intense feeling or fondness or admiration that is usually transitory. Infatuation is a part or a stage of growing up — it is the process of mental maturation.
Infatuation is emotionally associated with lusting, that is, a very strong sexual desire. It ebbs or declines once the desire is satisfied. Infatuation is not always reciprocated.
Love is by comparison everlasting, and matures into companionship with the passage of time. It is forever reciprocating, tolerant and forgiving.
The incidence of domestic violence is higher among those who marry young than it is among those who tie the knot at a mature age.
Cases of suicide are also more common among those who marry young than those who wait until they are between, say, about 24 and 30 years.
Causes of suicide in that marital category could be anger, protest or despair. Anger is often infused with resentment on the part of the female partner when she finds that her socio-economic expectations or dreams cannot be realised in her marital home, and that her partner is to blame.
Protest against either the misuse of the marital couple’s resources (money, motor vehicles, food, accommodation, crops) or against a marital partner’s sexual immorality (cheating) may lead to suicide.
Despair causes suicide among young couples when a partner believes that it is a failure, and cause of socioeconomic stagnation or reversal. Murders also occur at an alarming rate among those who marry young, so does divorce.
We have looked at this important national matter at the “effect” and not at the “cause” level. Juvenile marriages are caused by a number of economic, social, cultural and even political factors. It is, in fact, an effect or result of one or more of these factors.
Its major cause in Southern, Central, East and West Africa is economic, and is in the form of poverty. That factor is nowadays worsened by a social factor created by the devastating HIV and Aids pandemic.
In Zimbabwe, a country whose economic and social fibre is agriculture, a series of droughts has ruined a large number of communities.
The droughts have spawned poverty characterised by hunger, lack of accommodation, clothing, and by inability to access medical and educational services in various parts of the country.
The situation is exacerbated by the low productivity of the newly resettled Zimbabwean crop and livestock farmers most of whom still lack the financial capital to utilise their farms optimally.
That has led to unemployment in the agricultural sector one of whose victims are desperate and destitute young girls. In addition, there are those whose parents have been killed by the HIV and Aids pandemic.
Other highly vulnerable girls are those with unemployed (destitute) parents or guardians. To keep body and soul together, the parents or guardians marry off their daughters or wards to the first man who is able to pay either a part of the whole lobola, earliest.
That unfortunate situation can and should be stopped by the adoption of a national social welfare policy that caters for the poor, with the wealthy being heavily taxed for the benefit of the poor. Stiff prison sentences or fines should be meted out to parents or guardians responsible for juvenile marriages.
Such an approach could be based on the aims and objectives of the Zimbabwean liberation struggle’s ideology of socialism.
Juvenile marriage is historically found in the culture of some of Zimbabwe’s ethnic communities some of which betrothed their daughters even before birth. Some communities refer to lobola as pfuma (riches, wealth). That, by extension, means that the girl-child is in effect riches or wealth!
In that case, the sooner that child brings usable and tangible wealth to the parents or guardians the better, especially in circumstances where the parents or guardians are in dire economic straits.
We also have cases in which girls were betrothed for political relations or alliances. Such marriages no longer occur in Zimbabwe, however. Similarly, some marriages are created by sheer political power as is the case in one or two kingdoms in the Sadc region. In such traditional settings, girls who are of high school age are ordered by the king to be his wives.
In such instances traditional, political and social influence becomes so overwhelming that the poor girl just agrees. She has no alternative, in fact.
Such marriages are a naked abuse of helpless girls by politically powerful individuals whose actions are based on a belief that they are, in effect, the law in their countries.
They seem not to know that a kingdom cannot survive with only its king, but it can with only its people prevail as a republic in which the rights of the common people are paramount as opposed to those of a single so-called royal personality.
We now look at a type of marriage that seems to feature quite prominently in Zimbabwe these days. It originated in France a couple of centuries ago, and was referred to as “mariage de convenance,” translated into English as “marriage of convenience”.
No love is involved in such a union, if we can call it that. Most such marriages end up in divorce before the ink is dry on the marriage certificates. They are generally associated with people of devious characters and questionable intentions.
Some juveniles enter into marriages of convenience when the girls are pregnant, and in order for the boys not to pay what we call damages in Zimbabwe.
Desertions or divorces more often than not follow such affairs, leading to a great deal of misery for the girl child and her children. Marriage is best after one has acquired a profession on which to rely for one’s livelihood.
Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu is a retired, Bulawayobased journalist. He can be contacted on cell 0734 328 136 or through email firstname.lastname@example.org
School children lift a placard denouncing child mariages