Zimbabwe: Child Brides

BY TANYA NYATHI

Ruvimbo Tsopodzi became a child bride in Zimbabwe at 15. Three months into the marriage, she was pregnant. When the time came for her to give birth, she had to flee from her husband who she says beat, choked and kicked her almost to death every other day during that time.

Tsopodzi and another child bride, Loveness Mudzuru, appealed to end child marriages at the Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe early last year. After winning the case and a ban on child marriages between the ages of 12 and 16, they started a support group for girls to prevent child marriages.

“It’s called a ‘Girls, Not Brides’ group and I hope it will help many girls like me,” Tsopodzi said.

Ruvimbo Tsopodzi

When Tsopodzi describes the kind of abuse, she succumbed to during her marriage; her eyes become watery.

“But one day I thought enough is enough. I was afraid but I had to, I had to go back home,” she said.

About 15 million girls get married in the world each year, according to International Center for Research on Women, which found that across sub-Saharan Africa, two in five girls are wed as children.

In a survey done by Zimbabwe’s National Statistics Agency, one in three Zimbabwean women ages 20 to 49 married before 18. An estimated 4 percent of the girls are married before 15, according to Human Rights Watch. Child marriages are a result of many factors in Zimbabwe, including gender inequality and poverty.

“Poverty is a big factor,” said Dzie Chimbga a Human Rights Lawyer in Zimbabwe. “You can’t turn a blind eye to the economic situation in this country.  Some get married thinking the husbands will provide,” he said.

In Zimbabwe, 72 percent of the population live on less than $1 a day. Biting hunger, cash shortages, tight liquidity, and collective layoffs are common. According to International Labour Organization, over 80 percent of the population is unemployed. In many families, arranging a marriage for a daughter reduces the number of mouths to feed.

Tsopodzi’s story, and those of many other girls in Zimbabwe is astonishing.

On a normal day from school, Tsopodzi was walking in the company of a male friend.  As she approached her homestead, her father spotted them. He was not pleased. Arriving home, she was told to pack her belongings and never to return.

“I knew he was angry but I didn’t think he was going to chase me or tell me to go,” Tsopodzi said.

Tsopodzi’s mother and aunt accompanied her to her new home, where the male friend became her husband.

Later, when she got pregnant, the husband’s family had to pay “damages” or reparation fees, due to the family of a woman after the man admits to having mistakenly impregnated her without formally asking her parents for her hand in marriage. Tsopodzi’s father charged the man and his family $500, the equivalent price of a cow in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe’s Commissioner of Gender said families accept this.  “It’s a sad reality, we found that that is how most families operate in the village and most of these girls think it’s right.”

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