Child marriage, which often ends a girl’s education, exposes her to domestic violence and grave health risks from early childbearing and HIV and traps her in poverty, seems to be on the increase in Zimbabwe, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said this week.
A survey conducted in 2014 by Zimbabwe’s National Statistics Agency showed that one in three women aged between 20 and 49 was married before she reached 18, and an estimated 4% marry before the age of 15.
Independent statistics say 40% of girls marry before 18 in sub-Saharan Africa.
Since most child marriages are unregistered customary law unions, the survey is the best indicator of the scale of the problem in Zimbabwe, HRW said.
“The Zimbabwean government should show that it is serious about tackling the scourge of child marriage and raise the minimum age to 18,” HRW senior Africa researcher Dewa Mavhinga said in a statement published on the organisation’s website.
HRW interviewed 35 women and girls between October 13 and November 10, who were child brides in six provinces – Matabeleland South, Masvingo, Midlands, Mashonaland East, Mashonaland Central, and Harare – as well as two dozen government officials, lawyers, experts, and religious and traditional leaders.
Child marriage is common in Zim’s indigenous apostolic churches, charismatic evangelical groupings which mix Christian beliefs with traditional cultures and have approximately 1.2 million followers across the country, the New York-based NGO said.
“The Zimbabwe Council of Churches and the Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe acknowledge that the practice was more prevalent among apostolic followers than other religious groups.”
The Zim government should lead by example by setting 18 as the minimum legal age for marriage and pledging to enforce this law, HRW said.
An African Union Girls’ Summit on Ending Child Marriage was due to be hosted in the Zambian capital Lusaka on 26-27 November 2015.
“The future of millions of African girls depends on African leaders taking action to end a devastating practice that robs girls of education and exposes them to abuse,” Mavhinga said, adding that governments must be committed to end the practice.
Photo: A group of child brides in the Zim’s Mashonaland Central Province. Credit: Dewa Mavhinga/HRW