Child marriage has detrimental impacts on girls globally, and especially in Zimbabwe, where the rates of early marriage are extraordinarily high – 1 in every three Zimbabwean girls will marry before age 18. Even though child marriage was outlawed in 2016, girls still turn to marriage, oftentimes because they have no other choice. Factors such as family pressure, forced tradition, and economic instability continue to drive this harmful practice.
Many girls are forced to marry for reasons of family honor. If a girl is suspected to have had sexual relations, she will be expected to marry the man involved, even in cases of rape. When WAP interviewed Evelyn, they found out that she was a victim of this tradition. When Evelyn was only thirteen years old, she was raped by a man in his fifties. Her family then forced her to marry her own attacker against her will, for the sake of family honor. At only thirteen, Evelyn would now have to drop out of school, risk health problems, and be exposed to domestic violence. This tragedy is all too common for girls in Zimbabwe.
An early marriage means that girls will drop out of school in order to fulfill her role as a child bride. An overwhelming majority of the girls that WAP has spoken to about their situations have said that they did not want to drop out of school, but did not have any other option. Most say that they once hoped to be studying subjects that intrigue them and pursuing careers but are no longer able to do so. Anodiwa, who is currently 19 years old, was only 16 when she gave birth to her first child. “My favorite classes were history and English. I had wanted to be a human rights lawyer,” she told WAP. Because of a child marriage, poverty, and a lack of knowledge about her reproductive rights, Anodiwa is no longer able to live the life she had dreamt of. This is a direct violation of the fourth UN Sustainable Development Goal, which is to ensure a quality education.
Child marriage also poses serious health problems to girls. According to UNFPA, only 4% of Zimbabwean girls between the ages of ten and nineteen have a comprehensive understanding of pregnancy. Without proper sexual education, many girls who marry are unaware of how to protect themselves against sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancies. More often than not, girls will become pregnant before their bodies are fully developed, which will give them physical problems for the rest of their lives. Portia, age 19, does not want to marry after seeing the consequences that her married friends are facing: “They get married early because of harassment and bad treatment from their families. But there are many challenges for women who marry and give birth at a tender age, their muscles are not ready.” Furthermore, the practice of child marriage is extremely dangerous for young girls. According to Human Rights Watch, married girls between age 15 and 19 with minimal education are at heightened risk of domestic violence and spousal abuse when compared to adult women with higher levels of education.
The Women Advocacy Project (WAP) was formed in 2012 by a group of women from Harare, Zimbabwe who wanted to help the women and girls in their communities like Evelyn, Anodiwa, and Portia. WAP focuses on giving attention to groups of marginalized and vulnerable women and girls who are in need of support and resources to avoid the treacherous path of child marriage. Not only does WAP provide a safe space for these women and girls and provide them with education and emotional support, but the organization also promotes women’s socio-economic rights. WAP hopes to foster a community of girls and women who can learn from one another and create successful and independent lives for themselves.