Find ways to stop child mar­riages

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Opinion/worldwide -

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 sg­

School chil­dren lift a plac­ard de­nounc­ing child mariages

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